China’s Twitter fans colonise YouTube

Monday, 22 September 2014

Latest social media charm offensive exposed In the latest example of China’s manipulation of social media, Free Tibet research has detailed a web of fake YouTube accounts used to promote pro-China videos in a similar manner to the false Twitter accounts the campaign group exposed in July (1). Many of the YouTube accounts have the same names and profile pictures as the accounts Twitter deleted following the exposé (2). Free Tibet has today written to YouTube to demand that it follows Twitter’s lead and delete the accounts (3). Accounts hosted by deleted tweeters “Tom Hugo” and “Ken Peters” follow the Twitter model of posting content portraying Tibet as a happy Chinese province (4). Most activity, however, is dedicated to supporting a YouTube channel, Review China, which produces content intended to reassure foreign observers of China’s general domestic progress, good intentions and neighbourliness (5). Its speciality is videos of foreign ambassadors to Beijing talking about positive developments in China. Despite this dry material, most Review China videos have been viewed more than 10,000 times and many attract dozens of comments. Both English and Chinese language versions of the same videos are frequently viewed in equal numbers (often around 15,000), though only the English language versions attract likes (often 22 or 23) and comments, which are universally positive or nonsensical (6). The “commenters” are almost all Caucasians with Anglo-Saxon names produced by combining two first names, the same format used for the Twitter accounts. Identical comments are posted by different accounts on different videos: for instance, the view that “China is fortunate and lucky [sic] to have a very forward-looking leadership” is expressed by Solomon Milly, Selma Rex and Lewis Hubbard (7). Free Tibet has identified more than 50 such accounts and submitted a detailed dossier to YouTube this morning, demanding immediate action to investigate suspicious accounts and remove all found to be fake (8). Free Tibet has also urged Google’s Vice-President for YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, to introduce policies to prevent YouTube being used for deceptive propaganda in the interests of authoritarian regimes (9). Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said: “China is now proven to be a serial offender in the use of fake accounts on social media. Frankly, what we have uncovered is laughably amateurish and obvious but the possibility remains that more sophisticated techniques are being employed now or will be employed soon. It should not be the job of a small campaign group to ferret out such abuses on social media platforms owned by multibillion dollar corporations. Those companies have the resources to prevent this if they have the will. Let’s see if YouTube is willing. “China’s emphasis on the manipulation of Western public opinion is a sign of how important that public opinion is. Disguised propaganda intended to demonstrate China’s benevolence in the world is also a threat to Tibet. China is not benevolent or progressive and it must not be permitted to portray itself in that way: it is responsible for human rights abuse on a massive scale and occupies and brutally represses Tibet.” In addition to the use of fake Twitter accounts targeting Western audiences, bogus Chinese-language Twitter accounts have recently been used to target Chinese writer Morang Xeceun (10) and to interfere with pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong (11). -ends- Contact For further information, images and comment, contact Free Tibet press and media manager Alistair Currie E: Alistair@freetibet.org T: +44 (0)207 324 4605 Notes for editors (1) Dossier containing examples available at www.freetibet.org/files/YouTubedossierSeptember2014.pdf. Selected screen grabs available on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157647766431441 and from Free Tibet. (2) For more information on Twitter, see New York Times 21 July 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/world/asia/trending-attractive-people-sharing-upbeat-news-about-tibet-.html?_r=2 and Free Tibet press release 21 July 2014 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/china%E2%80%99s-web-fake-western-twitter-users-attacks-dalai-lama-and-spreads-tibet-propaganda (3) Letter available from Free Tibet (4) HugoTom: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvxReEGC9CltcvcOnx5e68A/channels Peters Ken: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdS64zpfZbwTphNSLrNsJiw (5) Review China YouTube site https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfWVME4-kfIuyFJxa8rdZsw (6) See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD9iOayXaFo (7) Selma Rex ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rzsd4d4ZxTo; Lewis Hubbard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWh8a_UWx54; Solomon Milly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlRlFOAlCFs (8) See dossierwww.freetibet.org/files/YouTubedossierSeptember2014.pdf (9) Letter available from Free Tibet (10) New York Times, 8 September 2014 http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/murong-xuecun-says-he-is-target-of-twitter-smear-campaign/?_php=true&_type=blogs&partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesworld&_r=0 (11) Foreign Policy 16 September 2014 ttp://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/16/chinas_social_media_underground_twitter Alistair Currie Campaigns and Media Manager Free Tibet +44 (0)20 7324 4605 28 Charles Square, N1 6HT, United Kingdom www.freetibet.org | www.facebook.com/freetibetorg | www.twitter.com/freetibetorg Free Tibet campaigns for Tibetan self-determination, human rights in Tibet and an end to China’s occupation. 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