AP Survey: China’s Net Army Helps Diplomats “Create” Support

A seven-month report by the Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom suggests that China’s rise in popularity on Twitter was actually achieved through a large number of fake accounts that retweeted tens of thousands of tweets from Chinese diplomats and official media. These accounts retweeted the tweets of Chinese diplomats and media tens of thousands of times, “generating” support for several Chinese diplomats, but the report was unable to determine whether the fake accounts were funded by the Chinese government.

According to the Associated Press, from June last year to February this year, Liu Xiaoming, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom who is known as China’s “diplomatic war wolf,” tweeted 43,000 retweets ridiculing Western anti-China bias. But investigators found that between June last year and January this year, more than half of Liu’s retweets were from accounts that had been suspended by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules.

Overall, 26,879 fake accounts that retweeted content from Chinese diplomats or official media at least once were deactivated by Twitter. Since Twitter usually waits until fake accounts become active before taking control, the 26,000+ accounts had successfully retweeted content from Chinese diplomats and official media nearly 200,000 times before being deactivated.

However, the deactivation of Twitter could not stop China’s big foreign propaganda, and a group of fake accounts posing as British citizens recently appeared on Twitter, continuing to promote the Chinese government’s content.

According to the report, this virtual popularity can elevate the status of Chinese messages, creating the illusion of widespread support and distorting the algorithms of social media platforms, which can be used to expose messages to more users. Although the influence of individual fake accounts is small, over time and scale, such networks will be able to distort the message ecosystem and deepen the influence and authenticity of China’s messages.