China is investing billions of dollars every year to spread disinformation and propaganda worldwide. With the help of artificial intelligence, the communist regime is on the verge of being able to strategically target foreign audiences with its influence operations, according to a report released on Sept. 28.
The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Influence
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) recently released a report highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) extensive history of distorting facts. The report reveals that the CCP is now spreading “false or biased pro-PRC content” globally while suppressing dissenting voices. The GEC report explains that the CCP has been using information manipulation since its establishment in 1921 to ensure its survival and increase its power. As the People’s Republic of China (PRC) seeks to reshape the international order, it continues to leverage propaganda and censorship, building on its legacy.
To enhance the dissemination of its preferred narratives, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has adopted a more centralized approach in the past decade. The United Front Work Department (UFWD), a key state agency responsible for carrying out influence activities abroad, has received increased funding and central coordination. The GEC report emphasizes that China’s spending on its information ecosystem, where Chinese propaganda and disinformation dominate, is already in the billions and continues to grow.
If China’s efforts go unchecked, the report warns that it could create biases and gaps that lead nations to prioritize Beijing’s interests over their own economic and security concerns.
X and TikTok
The report provides an example of Chinese influence operations involving over 1,000 pro-China accounts on X (formerly known as Twitter). These accounts attempted to bury a 2022 report by Spain-based advocacy group Safeguard Defenders, which exposed China’s secret operation of over 100 police stations in 53 countries, including the United States. The GEC report reveals that the pro-PRC accounts generated spam posts using the same name as Safeguard Defenders, potentially triggering Twitter’s automatic de-boosting response.
In April, the FBI arrested two individuals for operating a Chinese police station in New York City, where they allegedly received orders from the CCP to track down and silence Chinese dissidents.
The report also highlights TikTok, a Chinese-owned video-sharing app, as an example of how Chinese social media platforms can be used by the CCP to censor views and promote its narratives. TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, has maintained an internal list of individuals likely blocked or restricted from all ByteDance platforms, including TikTok, for reasons such as advocating for Uyghur independence. This list aims to prevent criticism of the PRC government from spreading on ByteDance-owned platforms.
Cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 reported that TikTok harvested users’ data, including locations, contacts, and passwords. Concerns about TikTok’s impact on national security have led several countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK, and the United States, to ban the app from government devices.
The GEC report reveals that the CCP has sought partnerships with other countries to amplify its preferred narratives. Beijing and Moscow agreed to “jointly combat disinformation” in July 2020. However, the report explains that Beijing’s definition of “disinformation” refers to narratives it perceives as threatening its interests.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the CCP has amplified Russian disinformation, including echoing Moscow’s accusations that the United States is escalating the war in Ukraine. In return, Russia promotes PRC propaganda related to Taiwan and other Chinese interests.
To influence Chinese-speaking diaspora communities, the CCP exploits the Chinese messaging app WeChat, using it as a conduit for disinformation. China’s state-run accounts on WeChat aim to isolate the diaspora from host societies, increase loyalty to the PRC, and undermine the legitimacy of democratic systems.
Canada-based digital watchdog Citizen Lab revealed that WeChat monitors communications between its users outside of China to improve its algorithm for censoring China-based accounts.
The GEC report also exposes the CCP’s use of “manufactured persona” to attribute articles, deceptively promoting CCP propaganda narratives through local media outlets. One example is the manufactured persona named “Yi Fan,” whose arguments align closely with CCP narratives on various global topics.
While China has achieved mixed results with its propaganda and censorship, the GEC report emphasizes the severe consequences if the CCP’s global narratives prevail. It could lead to the reshaping of the international order at the expense of individual liberties and national sovereignty worldwide.
What are the potential implications of the CCP’s unchecked growth of influence operations aided by AI?
Nvolvement in spreading disinformation and propaganda have led to bans and controversies in several countries, including the United States and India.
The Role of Artificial Intelligence
One of the most concerning aspects of the CCP’s influence operations is its utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The GEC report highlights how the CCP is on the verge of being able to strategically target foreign audiences using AI-powered disinformation campaigns. With AI algorithms, the CCP can analyze vast amounts of data and tailor their propaganda messages to specific demographics, amplifying their influence and shaping public opinion.
AI-powered deepfake technology is another tool the CCP can employ for its propaganda purposes. Deepfakes allow for the creation of realistic-looking, but fabricated, videos that can deceive viewers and further manipulate public perception. This technology, combined with targeted messaging, can be a potent weapon for the CCP in advancing its global agenda.
The report warns that the unchecked growth of the CCP’s influence operations, aided by AI, could have far-reaching implications for democratic societies, as it undermines independent media, fosters division, and promotes authoritarian values.
The Need for Vigilance
The GEC report emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in countering the CCP’s disinformation and propaganda efforts. It calls for democracies to form alliances and share information, tools, and best practices to effectively combat the influence operations carried out by the CCP.
Nations across the globe must take steps to protect their information ecosystems from foreign interference. Increased transparency and regulation of social media platforms can help mitigate the spread of disinformation and ensure that users are aware of the sources and intentions behind the content they consume.
Furthermore, media literacy and critical thinking should be promoted to enable individuals to discern fact from fiction and identify propaganda techniques. Education, both in schools and among the general public, plays a crucial role in countering the influence of disinformation campaigns.
The CCP’s extensive history of distorting facts and spreading propaganda is now being amplified by its investment in AI and technological advancements. As the CCP seeks to reshape the international order, its global influence operations pose a threat to democratic societies and independent media.
It is imperative for nations to recognize the magnitude of this threat and take proactive measures to safeguard their information ecosystems. By strengthening international cooperation, promoting media literacy, and implementing necessary regulations, societies can effectively combat the spread of disinformation and protect their democratic values.
The battle against the CCP’s disinformation and propaganda is not only a fight for truth but also a fight for the preservation of democratic principles and the freedom of information.
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