NEW DELHI: In a move to control the global narrative and promote its own agenda, the Chinese government is recruiting foreign influencers to spread propaganda on social media. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released a report today titled “Singing from the CCP’s songsheet,” which details China’s strategy of using foreign influencers to amplify its voice on the global stage.
The report analyzed the output of over 120 foreign influencers who operate active accounts on Chinese video-streaming platforms such as Bilibili, Douyin, Xigua, and Toutiao. Some of these influencers have tens of millions of followers on Chinese social media, and they have discovered that appealing to Chinese audiences’ sense of nationalism can provide a fast track to gain popularity, increase their online presence, and ultimately, generate more revenue.
ASPI found that China’s internet regulations encourage users to actively promote party propaganda, and many influencers have adapted to thrive in that system. The report also found that Beijing is actively recruiting and cultivating foreign influencers, even setting up a studio to guide their work. One of the ways that China is recruiting influencers is through competitions that offer prizes for pro-China videos.
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ASPI’s report warns that Beijing’s efforts to control the global narrative through foreign influencers are likely to have significant implications for the global information landscape. The growing use of foreign influencers will make it increasingly difficult for social-media platforms, foreign governments, and individuals to distinguish between genuine and/or factual content and propaganda. This will make it harder to counter disinformation and protect the integrity of public discourse.
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Recommendations to Counter China’s Propaganda Efforts
ASPI recommends several measures to counter China’s propaganda efforts, including:
- Social media platforms should label Beijing-backed influencers and share information about them with other platforms.
- Governments should educate students who intend to study abroad about the risks of being recruited by Chinese propaganda efforts.
- Governments should invest in research to better understand China’s propaganda plans.
The report also calls for increased funding for expert research groups that study disinformation, information operations, and propaganda.
Protecting the Integrity of Public Discourse
The use of foreign influencers to spread propaganda is a serious threat to the integrity of public discourse. It is important for social media platforms, governments, and individuals to be aware of this threat and to take steps to counter it. By labeling Beijing-backed influencers, educating students about the risks, and investing in research, we can help to protect the free flow of information and ensure that public discourse is based on facts, not propaganda.
KEY HIGHLIGHTS OF REPORT:
- Foreign influencers are reaching increasingly larger and more international audiences.
- The CCP is creating competitions that offer significant prize money and other incentives as part of an expanding toolkit to co-opt influencers in the production of pro-CCP and party-state-aligned content.
- Beijing is establishing multilingual influencer studios to incubate both domestic and foreign influencers in order to reach younger media consumers globally.
- The CCP is effectively using a widespread network of international students at Chinese universities, cultivating them as a latent talent pool of young, multilingual, social-media-friendly influencers.
- Russian influencers in China are cultivated as part of the CCP’s strategic goal of strengthening bilateral relations with Russia to counter Western countries.
- The CCP is using foreign influencers to enable its propaganda to surreptitiously penetrate mainstream overseas media, including into major US cable TV outlets. Chinese authorities use vlogger, influencer and journalist identities interchangeably, in keeping with efforts aimed at influencing audiences, rather than offering professional or objective news coverage.