Chinese government deploys online influencers amid Beijing Olympics boycotts • OpenSecrets

(Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese government hired company to recruit social media influencers in new digital operation amid controversies surrounding diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, OpenSecrets review Registers of the Foreign Agents Registration Act find.

The influence operation is being coordinated by Vippi Media, a New Jersey-based consulting firm, under a $ 300,000 contract that runs through March 2022. The Chinese Consulate General in New York paid $ 210,000 upfront on November 23.

As part of the online influencer campaign to promote the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and the 2022 Paralympic Games, the Chinese government is paying the company to recruit influencers who “need to be activated to increase l ‘audience, mass awareness and premium content’ for China.

Most of the influencer posts should focus on “the elements of Beijing and China” including “Beijing history, cultural relics, modern people’s lives, new trends,” Chinese athlete preparations and “touching moments”.

At least 20% of the posts are supposed to focus on “cooperation and all the good things in Sino-US relations.” This content should highlight “cooperation” on issues such as “climate change, biodiversity, new energies” and “positive outcomes”.

Promoting Consulate news and trends should only make up 10% of deliverables, which means most of the content comes directly from social influencers hired by the company.

This is just the latest operation to influence the Chinese government and its state-run media entities, whose foreign agents have disclosed more than $ 170 million in propaganda and lobbying spending in the United States since. 2016. Chinese foreign agents reported around $ 60 million in propaganda spending. targeting the US only in 2020 – and that’s just the spending that has been reported under FARA.

The new $ 300,000 contract is far less than what China spends on China Daily or CCTV, but it shows how online influencers can achieve broad reach without the high costs of physically producing newspapers or TV shows.

While China Daily’s overall international print media readership is valued To be around 900,000, a single “celebrity” influencer targeted as part of the Chinese government’s new campaign would have over 2 million Instagram followers or 2.5 million TikTok subscribers.

FARA’s registration dossiers feature five levels of social media influencers recruited to provide services. They range from “celebrity” influencers with the aforementioned Instagram and TikTok followers to “nano” influencers with less than 10,000 followers on either platform.

In addition to Instagram and TikTok, the campaign will also recruit influencers on Twitch and measure success on the interactive live streaming platform through the number of viewers, impressions and engagement of the live chat.

The new online influence operation comes amid an international backlash against China over a series of alleged human rights violations that have led the White House to announce on December 6, that President Joe Biden’s administration “will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.” The administration cited allegations abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang provincial and democratic repression in Hong Kong. However, the American boycott does not extend to American athletes and will not prevent them from competing in the 2022 Olympics.

the UK, Australia and Canada also announced that they were preventing officials from traveling to Beijing.

The new influence operation was launched shortly after the censorship and propaganda campaigns tried to change the narrative around the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.

Peng faded away after accusing a Chinese Communist Party official of sexual misconduct in a November 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter.

Peng has not been seen outside of a Chinese government video a tennis match released on November 21, and a video conference between her and various sports officials on the same day. After human rights activists and sports officials around the world continued to question Chinese authorities on Peng, the Women’s Tennis Association interrupted tournaments in China.

Chinese state media CGTN TV highlighted some programming linked to the Olympics as part of an operation of US influence. More recent information carriers promoted state media content about “the deep social inequalities that divide American society”.

State media’s November briefings also highlighted other sporting events in an attempt to show a close relationship between China and the United States. Table tennis championships in Houston. The briefing materials also promoted a an event at the championships organized by the table tennis associations of China and the United States to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “The diplomacy of ping-pong”- a series of table tennis matches between an American and Chinese player that led to the game being described as the “perfect instrument of communist propaganda”.

While the Chinese government publicly promoted the World Table Tennis Championships in the United States, Chinese authorities quietly limited online conversations on topics as broad as “tennis” as part of an operation to censoring several hundred keywords to cancel the conversation on Peng, according to a recent joint investigation. from ProPublica and the New York Times.

China has already censored the #MeToo hashtag on social media and recently detained journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin, who has been involved in the Chinese #MeToo movement, accused of “inciting the subversion of state power”.

Attempts to change the narrative around Peng’s allegations and disappearance aren’t the only recent online influence operation from China that has sparked public controversy.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announcement on December 1 that he had deleted hundreds of accounts linked to influence operations that have their origin in China.

Influence Operations reportedly disseminated refuted information about COVID-19 and claimed that the United States had pressured the World Health Organization to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic. Several Chinese state media, including the CGTN and People’s Daily, featured the articles in articles with headlines such as “Allegations of ‘Bullying’ Emerge from United States”

The Beijing Olympics are not the only major international sporting event facing a setback linked to alleged human rights violations by host countries.

Last weekend, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton announced that he did not feel comfortable competing in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Hamilton noted he feels “duty” to raise awareness of the issues after human rights groups accused F1 of “”sports wash ” alleged abuses in Middle Eastern countries hosting races.

Hamilton has emerged as a vocal critic of the holding of the Grand Prix in countries with a history of suspected human rights efforts, including Qatar and Bahrain, following a plea efforts human rights groups. He nevertheless participated in each of the races.

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Anna massoglia

Anna is the OpenSecrets researcher-investigator. She researches foreign influence as part of the Foreign Lobby Watch Project, tracks political advertising data, and investigates “black money.” She holds degrees in political science and psychology from North Carolina State University and a JD from District University of Columbia Law School.


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