The murky world of China’s social media influencers

todayMarch 30, 2022

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“You’ll be able to see how they’re making an attempt to infiltrate each certainly one of these nations,” stated Miburo President Clint Watts, a former FBI agent. “If you happen to simply bombard an viewers for lengthy sufficient with the identical narratives folks will are inclined to imagine them over time.”

Russia’s struggle with Ukraine is however one instance.

Whereas the invasion was being condemned as a brazen assault on democracy, Li Jingjing offered a distinct narrative to her 21,000 YouTube subscribers, posting movies that echoed Russian propaganda and promoted deceptive claims — together with that the US and NATO provoked Russia’s invasion.

Final April, CGTN invited English audio system from around the globe to hitch a months-long competitors that will finish with jobs as social media influencers in London, Nairobi, Kenya or Washington.Credit score:Getty

On YouTube, Li Jingjing says she’s a “traveller,” “storyteller” and journalist.” However she doesn’t reveal in her segments that she’s a reporter for CGTN, articulating views that aren’t simply her personal but additionally acquainted Chinese language authorities speaking factors. Neither Vica Li nor Li Jingjing responded to questions from AP.

The AP recognized dozens of comparable accounts, which collectively have greater than 10 million followers and subscribers. The profiles usually belong to Chinese language state media reporters who’ve remodeled their Fb, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts — platforms largely blocked in China — and begun figuring out as “bloggers,” “influencers” or non-descript “journalists.”

“They clearly have recognized the ‘Chinese language girl influencer’ is the best way to go,” Watts stated of China.

“There’s an easy method to turn out to be profitable…It’s merely to reward the Chinese language authorities, to reward China and discuss how nice China is and the way dangerous the West is.”

YouTuber Winston Sterzel

Overseas governments have lengthy tried to use social media to stealthily affect customers, together with throughout the 2016 US election.

In response, tech corporations like Fb and Twitter promised to raised alert American customers to international propaganda by labelling state-backed media accounts.

However the AP overview discovered a lot of the Chinese language influencer social media accounts are inconsistently labelled as state-funded media. The accounts, like these belonging to Li Jingjing and Vica Li, are sometimes labelled on Fb or Instagram, however aren’t flagged on YouTube or TikTok. Vica Li’s account just isn’t labelled on Twitter. Final month, Twitter started figuring out Li Jingjing’s account as Chinese language state-media.

CGTN didn’t reply to interview requests. CGTN America, which is registered as a international agent with the Justice Division and has disclosed having industrial preparations with worldwide information organisations together with the AP, CNN and Reuters, didn’t return messages. A lawyer who has represented CGTN America didn’t reply both.

Jason Lightfoot’s Living In China YouTube page.

Jason Lightfoot’s Residing In China YouTube web page.Credit score:YouTube

A spokesman for the Chinese language Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, stated “Chinese language media and journalists perform regular actions independently, and shouldn’t be assumed to be led or interfered by the Chinese language authorities.”

China’s curiosity in social media influencers grew to become evident in December when filings with the Justice Division revealed the Chinese language Consulate in New York paid $US300,000 to New Jersey agency Vippi Media to recruit influencers to submit messages to Instagram and TikTok followers throughout the Beijing Olympics. Vipp Jaswal, Vippi Media’s CEO, declined to share with AP particulars in regards to the posts.

English-speaking influencers have additionally cultivated a distinct segment by selling pro-Chinese language messaging on YouTube and Twitter.

Final April, CGTN invited English audio system from around the globe to hitch a months-long competitors that will finish with jobs as social media influencers in London, Nairobi, Kenya or Washington.

British video blogger Jason Lightfoot raved in regards to the alternative in a YouTube video and has accrued 200,000 subscribers with headlines like “The Olympics Backfired on USA — Disastrous Remorse” and “Western Media Lies about China.”

Lin Jingjing’s Twitter account has been labelled as Chinese-state media.

Lin Jingjing’s Twitter account has been labelled as Chinese language-state media.Credit score:YouTube

The video subjects are in sync with these of different pro-China bloggers comparable to Cyrus Janssen, a US citizen in Canada. Throughout the Olympics, Janssen and Lightfoot shared similar pictures on the identical day of Gu in posts celebrating her three-medal win, although Lightfoot additionally poked enjoyable at President Joe Biden.

Janssen instructed AP he’s by no means accepted cash from the Chinese language authorities. However when pressed for particulars about a few of his partnerships with Chinese language tech corporations, Janssen responded solely with questions on an AP’s reporter wage.

YouTubers Matthew Tye, an American, and Winston Sterzel, who’s from South Africa, imagine, in lots of instances, China is paying for content material.


They have been included final yr on an e-mail pitch to quite a few YouTube influencers from an organization that recognized itself as Hong Kong Pear Expertise. The e-mail requested them to share a promotional video for China’s touristy Hainan province on their channels. Pear Expertise adopted up in one other e-mail with a pitch for them to submit a propaganda video that asserted COVID-19 originated from North American white-tailed deer, not China.

Sterzel and Tye didn’t hear something additional after they requested the corporate present proof to help that declare.

“There’s an easy method to turn out to be profitable,” Sterzel stated in an interview. “It’s merely to reward the Chinese language authorities, to reward China and discuss how nice China is and the way dangerous the West is.”


The Enterprise Briefing publication delivers main tales, unique protection and skilled opinion. Signal as much as get it each weekday morning.

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todayMarch 30, 2022

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