How China’s disinformation tactics work?

The disinformation tactics used by China
Facebook and Twitter removed accounts linked to China during unrest in Hong Kong in 2019. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: The Chinese embassy in London has criticised the BBC after it aired a documentary about China’s disinformation campaigns.

There have also recently been a series of denials from China over reports into forced imprisonment of its minority Uighur muslims – these have included baseless accusations against human rights organisations and media.

In the latest attack, a Chinese official falsely claimed a Uighur interviewee on a BBC programme was an actress.

So what tactics does China use in the spread of misleading and disinformation?

Since mid-February, there have been almost daily anti-BBC articles in Chinese state media.

It started after UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom decided to revoke the licence for China’s state-run overseas broadcaster, CGTN.

China has broadly criticised Western outlets for years for reports on affairs in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, saying they should not intervene in China’s “internal affairs”.

But these latest attacks on Western media outlets are a clear escalation.

The domestic media outlets in China have praised their government’s decision for banning the BBC’s World News channel, although it was only available in some residential compounds and international hotels where foreigners live.

Source: Getty Images

Reports from leading outlets like China’s Global Times have criticised the “Cold War” mentality when it comes to China – on topics ranging from the Uighur population of Xinjiang, the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong.

When China was facing a backlash over its handling of early stages of the coronavirus pandemic last year, and some US officials were floating the theory that Covid-19 could have escaped from a Wuhan lab, CGTN started to push its own conspiracy theory.

Despite a complete lack of evidence, CGTN suggested Covid-19 originated at a military base in Maryland in the US and was brought to China by American soldiers during an athletics competition.

China experts have noticed in recent months that dozens of new and highly active official social media accounts representing Chinese embassies and leading diplomats.

This has become known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy and a major source of disinformation campaign. The best-known account belongs to Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry.

In March last year, he caused controversy after tweeting articles suggesting that Covid-19 originated in the United States. Those tweets have been shared more than 40,000 times and referenced in 54 different languages, Digital Forensic Research Lab, part of the Atlantic Council think tank, says.

Popular hashtags referencing the posts have made waves at home too – they have been viewed by users of Chinese social network Weibo more than 300 million times.

Zhao Lijian was widely criticised in December last year for sharing a fake image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child, for which China refused to apologise.

China draws on millions of its citizens to monitor the internet and influence public opinion on a massive scale online.

Source: BBC

These recruits are known as the “50 cent army” – as they are named like this because of reports that they were paid 0.5 yuan per post.

This “keyboard army” has long been active on social media platforms in the country. Its aim has been to aggressively protect and defend China’s image overseas.

When tweeting in English, the messages are aimed at a Western audience.

To the unsuspecting reader, they might appear as patriotic citizens acting independently, but frequently the ”keyborad army” taking directions from Chinese authorities.

One example is the way in which video footage of 2019 violent protests in Hong Kong was promoted on social media via this keyboard army using terms such as “terrorism”, while peaceful protests coverage was censored.

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