In a joint article with the nonprofit investigative journalism outlet ProPublica, The New York Times on Tuesday exposed the political propaganda that Chinese authorities have been implementing through international social media outlets such as Twitter and YouTube to target the cover-up of ethnic repression policies in Xinjiang.
The New York Times revealed that the newspaper and ProPublica found evidence of an influence propaganda campaign orchestrated by the Chinese government after a months-long analysis of more than 3,000 videos. The operation produced and disseminated thousands of videos of Chinese citizens denying their group’s oppression and rebuking foreign officials and multinational corporations that dared to question China’s human rights record in Xinjiang.
It is reported that many of the videos of people in Xinjiang declaring “we are free” first appeared on the “Pomegranate Cloud” app owned by the Xinjiang Daily, the local branch of the official People’s Daily, and then through Chinese websites or as The video appeared on other websites such as YouTube in the form of a “Shakyin” video with English subtitles. On Twitter, a group of interlinked accounts were responsible for sharing the videos in a way that appeared to deliberately evade the platform’s system for detecting propaganda activity.
The New York Times interviewed one of the Xinjiang men featured in the video by phone, who admitted that the local propaganda department had produced the video and provided the phone number of the local “big leader of the propaganda department,” according to the report. Several other Xinjiang residents featured in the video either declined to be interviewed or could not be reached.
Moreover, of the more than 300 accounts that shared the video on Twitter, not only was the content very similar, but they all ended with a string of random characters with no apparent meaning, strongly suggesting that they were not normal users, but part of a unified claiming operation.
The New York Times notes that Chinese authorities have blocked Western social media platforms such as Twitter or YouTube domestically out of fear that they would be used to spread political messages, but that this is precisely what Chinese officials are using overseas platforms for, as a conduit for Beijing’s high-speed political propaganda. The large number of disclosed videos about Xinjiang is also one of the most painstaking political claims made by the Chinese authorities to influence global public opinion.