Twitter Ops

Chinese Communists Appear to Be Resuscitating Soviet Strategy

In August 2019, ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit investigative journalism site, started tracking suspected fake Twitter accounts that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign tied to the Chinese government. Some of the accounts were hacked accounts of real users, while others appeared to have been automatically generated using fake profile photos and usernames. In late March, Jeff Kao and Mia Shuang Lifor explained what they found in How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let It Loose on Coronavirus:

Most of the posts we found are in Chinese and appear aimed at influencing the millions of ethnic Chinese who live outside of China’s borders...An analysis by ProPublica shows that the Chinese government’s covert attempts to wield influence on Twitter have persisted. Our examination of an interlocking group of accounts within our data linked the effort to OneSight (Beijing) Technology Ltd., a Beijing-based internet marketing company. OneSight, records show, held a contract to boost the Twitter following of China News Service, the country’s second-largest state-owned news agency. The news service operates under the United Front Work Department, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party long responsible for influence operations in foreign countries.

OneSight, they noted, was founded in October 2017 by a former worker at the Beijing city foreign propaganda department and bills itself as the top overseas social marketing company in China.

About the same time ProPublica was ramping up its analysis, Twitter announced that it had suspended a network of nearly 1000 accounts originating from within China. The accounts were deliberately targeting political protesters in Hong Kong in a concerted effort to undermine them, and Twitter said it had reliable evidence that the network was a Chinese state-backed operation. The ProPublica analysts saw a similar trend. Last fall, the Twitter accounts they were following had been criticizing the Hong Kong protests in suspiciously coordinated ways:

Posts in the network were often accompanied by a chorus of approving comments from obviously fake accounts. The same comments were used over and over to create false engagement. Comment texts were often lifted word-for-word from state editorials, which have long served as political lodestars for government agencies and party officials.

In January, the accounts they were following abruptly turned their focus to coronavirus. Some promoted the Chinese government with tweets like, “We were not scared during the outbreak because our country was our rearguard. Many disease-fighting warriors were thrust to the front lines. Even more volunteers helped in seemingly trivial yet important ways.” Others suggested that the US Army was responsible for bringing the virus to Wuhan.

If you’re familiar with the way Communist governments have worked in the past, you’ll probably recognize the clear signs of a disinformation campaign. During the Cold War, as I wrote in an earlier Salvo, disinformation was official Soviet Union policy, run directly out of Moscow. It had three objectives: (1) to polish the Communist government’s image, (2) to hide Communist crimes, or (3) to delegitimize or slander an enemy.

In response to Soviet deceit, President Truman launched a “Campaign of Truth.” It was a cooperative free-world counteroffensive that gave birth to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberation (later, Radio Liberty), and Vatican Radio. Irina Ratushinskaya, who spent nearly four years in a Soviet prison during the 1980s, later wrote that news of Ronald Reagan’s opposition to Communism would make its way into her prison, and it always boosted the spirits of the prisoners. Whenever they would hear news of outside opposition to Communism, they knew that someone saw through the propaganda. It gave them hope that the evil system would eventually be overcome by the good. And indeed, although it took decades, the Soviet Union did collapse on its own. Empires of lies always will.

But truth-telling is essential for the downfall to occur. It appears now that the Chinese government, which has in recent years reverted to a hardline Communism under Xi Jinping, is following the Soviet game plan, only through a higher tech platform. If you know anything about how Communism works, you also know that behind every Communist wall are oppressed people. That means that behind the Chinese Firewall, there are people who need our help. Andrew Breitbart said that in an internet age, everyone should become a kind of citizen journalist. For the sake of the Chinese people, then, let all of us in the free world meet their oppressors’ deceit with a massive, counteroffensive, citizens’ campaign of truth. Given that we now have virtually instant communication, let us work to bring this wall down in a matter of weeks or months, rather than decades.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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