Cyber Row

Keyboard trolls ramp up China’s fake news campaign

Beijing’s online army uses multi-language social media platforms to push an alternative agenda and propaganda

China has rolled out a massive troll army on multi-language social media sites to push propaganda and fake news.

In 2019, security firm FireEye and Google’s parent company Alphabet revealed the existence of an online Chinese campaign in English to smear Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Since then, a report has shown that President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party has rapidly expanded its operation from Twitter, Facebook and Google to multiple sites across the world.

“We have observed extensive promotion of Russian, German, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese-language content on US and non-US-based platforms,” FireEye said in a report published earlier this week.

“[This is] in addition to the typical English and Chinese-language activity that has been widely reported,” it added. 

Troll Topia:

  • China is expanding its operation using the propaganda and fake news model pioneered by Russia.
  • False information about the origins of Covid-19 has become a major focus for Beijing.
  • Multiple Russian-language LiveJournal accounts used identical wording: “U.S. Ft. Detrick was the source of COVID-19.” 
  • This was a reference to the US Army’s Fort Detrick installation in Maryland.
  • China’s state-run media outlets have been running a campaign to investigate the base after pressure mounted for a second mission to Wuhan.
  • The Chinese city was at the center of the initial outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen in 2019.
  • The World Health Organization has not completely ruled out a laboratory leak at the high-security Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  • But Beijing refuses to hand over crucial data from the lab.
  • The pro-CCP troll network is also designed to incite protests in the United States.

What was said: “This direct call for physical mobilization is a significant development compared to prior activity, potentially indicative of an emerging intent to motivate real-world activity outside of China’s territories,” FireEye concluded in the Mandiant Threat Intelligence report.

Delve deeper: The study was released less than a month after a report by the Centre for Information Resilience in the United Kingdom confirmed that Chinese trolls were using “fake AI-generated profile photographs” in posts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Designed for stealth: “The aim of the network appears to be to delegitimize the West by amplifying pro-Chinese narratives,” Benjamin Strick, the author of the CIR study, said as reported by China Factor.

Shut it down: As Xi and the Communist Party expands its global online presence, the regime is clamping down on freedom of speech and criticism at home.

Gagging order: Last year, an investigation showed that China launched a censorship campaign and “muzzled dissenting voices” when Covid-19 first surfaced in Wuhan.

Flatter chatter: Even before the outbreak was officially confirmed by the ruling Communist Party, the CCP had marshaled propaganda “paid trolls” to flood social media with “distracting chatter.”

China Factor comment: As China ramps up its troll army, we give the last word to John Hultquist, the vice-president of intelligence analysis at FireEye. “They’ve clearly got a wide mandate that’s global. Someone is giving them pretty broad orders,” he said as reported by the Reuters news agency.

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