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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Global Pro-China Influence Campaign Unveiled by Researchers

In a digital age where information is power, a disconcerting revelation has come to light, unraveling a sophisticated web of influence orchestrated by a Chinese public relations firm. Across continents, from Europe to Asia and Latin America, more than 100 websites masquerading as local news outlets have emerged, serving as conduits for pro-China propaganda. This intricate network, unearthed by the vigilant efforts of digital watchdog Citizen Lab, unveils a troubling narrative of orchestrated deception, with far-reaching implications for global media consumption and public discourse.

Unveiling the Influence Campaign

The findings of Citizen Lab’s exhaustive research paint a stark picture of a meticulously planned influence campaign, orchestrated by Shenzhen Haimaiyunxiang Media Co., Ltd. (Haimai). Since its inception in mid-2020, this campaign has sprawled across 30 countries, infiltrating local media landscapes under the guise of legitimate news sources. What initially appeared as innocuous platforms for community news and updates have now been exposed as instruments of propaganda, disseminating pro-China content alongside genuine news articles.

Analysis of Content

Delving into the content propagated by these deceptive websites reveals a spectrum of narratives carefully curated to serve Beijing’s interests. From conspiracy theories deflecting blame for global crises onto the United States and its allies to fervent defenses of Beijing’s policies, the propaganda machine operates with calculated precision. Articles peddling misinformation about COVID-19 origins and vilifying critics of the Chinese government abound, amplifying Beijing’s narrative on a global scale.

Response and Denial

In the face of mounting evidence, Shenzhen Haimaiyunxiang Media Co., Ltd. remains conspicuously silent, evading scrutiny and accountability. Meanwhile, representatives of the Chinese embassy in Washington dismiss allegations of disinformation, alleging bias in favor of anti-China narratives. This defiance underscores the audacity with which such influence operations operate, brazenly manipulating public opinion with impunity.

Case Study: Roma Journal

Among the many websites implicated in this sprawling influence campaign, Roma Journal stands out as a chilling example of deceptive journalism. Cloaked in the guise of a legitimate Italian news outlet, Roma Journal surreptitiously peddles Chinese state media articles under the guise of press releases. From discussions on Italian politics to local events, the website seamlessly integrates pro-China narratives, perpetuating Beijing’s agenda under the guise of local journalism.

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The Role of Times Newswire

Further investigation reveals a troubling connection to Times Newswire, a press release service previously embroiled in a separate Chinese influence operation targeting U.S. audiences. The symbiotic relationship between these entities underscores the systemic nature of China’s global influence endeavors, with misinformation flowing seamlessly through established channels and infiltrating unsuspecting media ecosystems.

Expanding Influence and Future Projections

As online influence campaigns continue to proliferate worldwide, China emerges as a formidable player alongside traditional actors like Russia and Iran. The expansion of Chinese influence operations beyond Asia signals a significant shift in the global threat landscape, as highlighted by recent reports. Despite the relatively low levels of engagement observed in these campaigns, experts caution against underestimating their impact, emphasizing the enduring nature of China’s strategic efforts to shape global narratives.

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