NY Times: China is using US social media to spread thinly disguised propaganda on Xinjiang

The NY Times has looked closely at thousands of videos posted to YouTube in the past six months which purport to be independent, first hand accounts of what life is really like in Xinjiang, China. But it turns out those clips are not independent at all. They are being produced by Chinese propaganda officials who are using a script to crank these out as quickly as possible.

The operation has produced and spread thousands of videos in which Chinese citizens deny abuses against their own communities and scold foreign officials and multinational corporations who dare question the Chinese government’s human rights record in Xinjiang…

Many of these videos of people in Xinjiang first appeared on a regional Communist Party news app. Then they showed up on YouTube and other global sites, with English subtitles added…

Most videos are in Chinese or Uyghur and follow the same basic script. The subject introduces herself, then explains how her own happy, prosperous life means there couldn’t possibly be repressive policies in Xinjiang. Here’s a typical clip, shot as a selfie.

The videos themselves often mention former Sec. of State Mike Pompeo by name, saying that his comments about cultural genocide in Xinjiang are “total nonsense.”

The people in more than 1,000 of the videos say they have recently come across Mr. Pompeo’s remarks, most of them “on the internet” or on specific platforms such as Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok…

This expression — “You’re speaking total nonsense” — and close variations of it appear in more than 600 of the videos.

One video shows the owner of a car dealership telling Pompeo “shut your mouth.” The Times called the man featured in the video and asked him who produced the clip. He said the local propaganda authorities had done it and suggested the Times call the “propaganda department” for more information.

There’s a certain cleverness to the Chinese deceit. They are using social media sites (YouTube, Twitter) that aren’t even available in China. And they take steps to avoid having identical descriptions being caught by algorithms designed to catch spam. For instance, on Twitter a group of 300 accounts would post nearly identical messages but then add a few random characters at the end to help avoid detection. The Times notes that all of the messages seem to be posted between 10 am and 8 pm Beijing time.

The coordinated pushback against Sec. Pompeo eventually died down but was then replaced by a similar campaign against H&M, the Swedish clothing retailer who criticized forced labor practices in Xinjiang. As of this week, more than 800 videos attacking H&M had been posted to YouTube.

The NY Times isn’t the only site noticing the uptick of Chinese propaganda. Matthew Tye, who I mentioned yesterday in the post about China using rap for propaganda purposes, did a video earlier this month tracing how a speech by Xi Jinping led to the surge we’re seeing. Tye predicts we’ll see a lot of “white monkeys” on YouTube, i.e. white, western faces presenting content supportive of Chinese propaganda. He points out some specific examples of this phenomenon in the clip below.

Tye also uncovers another propaganda effort. It’s a channel called The Story of Xinjiang by Guli. Guli happens to be a very pretty Chinese woman who is spouting Chinese denials of mistreatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. But after looking more closely, Tye found there are actually at least six channels like this, each of which features a different Chinese woman who says her name is Guli from Xinjiang. It’s almost like they are test marketing their propagandists.

But the real giveaway here is that it’s illegal to use a VPN to access western social media. If Guli was really just a random girl from Xinjiang, she could be charged with terrorism for uploading videos to YouTube. The fact that she hasn’t been tells you all you need to know.