National Security

Chinese Bots Are Stifling Criticism Of Beijing Olympics On Social Media: REPORT

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

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Ailan Evans Associate Editor
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A Chinese influence campaign consisting largely of automated social media accounts is spamming messages online to suppress criticism of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a recent report.

The pro-China accounts are employing a number of tactics, including flooding Twitter’s #GenocideGames hashtag with spam messages in order to dilute criticism of the Olympics and China itself, according to an analysis by researchers at Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub reported by The Wall Street Journal. The tactic is also intended to prevent activists from using the hashtag to mobilize by polluting it with unrelated posts and information.

“The Chinese propaganda apparatus has been very focused on defending their image regarding the treatment of the Uyghur, while also promoting the Olympics. This hashtag is at the nexus of those two things,” Clemson University researcher Darren Linvill told the WSJ. (RELATED: Chinese Tech Firm Takes Over, Shuts Down World Leader’s Personal Social Media Account)

Opening Ceremony - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 0

Torch bearer Wang Wenzhuo lights up the cauldron of Zhangjiakou competition area after the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 04, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, North China’s Hebei Province. (Photo by Zhu Xudong – Pool/Getty Images)

The campaign is part of a larger pro-China influence operation intended to improve the perception of China in Western countries, according to researchers. Oftentimes, fake Chinese accounts will impersonate Westerners by adopting American-sounding names to disguise their messages, according to the WSJ.

“Topics change according to what is of interest in the news: Hong Kong protests, the election in Taiwan in 2020, Covid, Xinjiang, now—per this research—the Olympics,” Renée DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, told the WSJ.

Of the accounts tweeting the #GenocideGames hashtag examined by researchers, 70% did not have a single follower, according to the WSJ. A Twitter spokesperson told the WSJ the company had taken action against many of these accounts for violating its policies on spam and platform manipulation.

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