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'To Guide' Public Opinion: CCP Mining Social Media Data on Westerners
Ever wanted to be famous? Well, the Chinese government may just be collecting data on you. The Washington Post reported on the fact that “China is turning a major part of its internal Internet-data surveillance network outward, mining Western social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to equip its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets, according to a Washington Post review of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings.” This includes software specifically targeting foreign journalists and academics, all in an effort to control the global narrative about China and limit as much as possible any non-propagandistic reporting on the evil, genocidal Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Here’s a very key passage:
“In an April 2020 article, the chief analyst at the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Data Center, Liao Canliang, laid out the ultimate goal of public opinion analysis.
‘The ultimate purpose of analysis and prediction is to guide and intervene in public opinion,’ Canliang wrote. ‘… Public data from social network users can be used to analyze the characteristics and preferences of users, and then guide them in a targeted manner.’”
The CCP is trying to control not only what the Chinese think but also what foreigners, including Americans, think. While Chinese and Iranian government-affiliated accounts are allowed to spread lies and extremely violent rhetoric on Twitter, for instance, conservatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and truth-speakers like Dr. Robert Malone are banned from Twitter. I would go a step farther than The Washington Post and say that American social media companies are cooperating, to a greater or lesser extent, with the CCP as the latter spreads its lies and mines data. One can argue about how much platforms like Twitter and Facebook know of what the CCP is doing, but the fact that the CCP is allowed to violate policies without serious retribution online is undeniable. Twitter said it suspended thousands of CCP-linked accounts, according to The Post—so why are outlets like Global Times and government officials like Zhao Lijian (@zlj517), who are constantly lying or breaking Twitter policies, not suspended?
“People’s Daily subsidiary Global Times, a firebrand newspaper known for its biting coverage of China’s critics, also has a unit gathering foreign social media data for China’s Foreign Ministry, Beijing’s Foreign Affairs Office and other government agencies.”
For context, the Global Times threatened to make Taiwan and Australia “cannon fodder” and recently published an interview of Russian experts which said that US “weakness” was bringing Russia and China closer together and ensuring “A cold war will go on.”
Here are some other significant passages from The Post’s report (emphasis added):
“China maintains a countrywide network of government data surveillance services — called public opinion analysis software — that were developed over the past decade and are used domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online.
The software primarily targets China’s domestic Internet users and media, but a Post review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since the beginning of 2020 include orders for software designed to collect data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media.
The documents, publicly accessible through domestic government bidding platforms, also show that agencies including state media, propaganda departments, police, military and cyber regulators are purchasing new or more sophisticated systems to gather data.
These include a $320,000 Chinese state media software program that mines Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics; a $216,000 Beijing police intelligence program that analyzes Western chatter on Hong Kong and Taiwan; and a cybercenter in Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uyghur population, that catalogues the mainly Muslim minority group’s language content abroad. . .
The vast data collection and monitoring efforts give officials insight into public opinion, a challenge in a country that does not hold public elections or permit independent media.
The services also provide increasingly technical surveillance for China’s censorship apparatus. And most systems include alarm functions designed to alert officials and police to negative content in real time.
These operations are an important function of what Beijing calls ‘public opinion guidance work’ — a policy of molding public sentiment in favor of the government through targeted propaganda and censorship. . .
The exact scope of China’s government public opinion monitoring industry is unclear, but there have been some indications about its size in Chinese state media. In 2014, the state-backed newspaper China Daily said more than 2 million people were working as public opinion analysts. In 2018, the People’s Daily, another official organ, said the government’s online opinion analysis industry was worth ‘tens of billions of yuan,’ equivalent to billions of dollars, and was growing at a rate of 50 percent a year. . .
In May this year, Xi called on senior officials to portray a more ‘trustworthy, lovable and reliable’ image of China abroad, calling for the ‘effective development of international public opinion guidance.’
His comments reflect Beijing’s growing anxieties over how to control China’s image abroad.
‘On the back of the Sino-US trade talks and the Hong Kong rioting incident, it’s becoming clearer day by day that the public opinion news war is arduous and necessary,’ China Daily said in a July 2020 bidding document for a $300,000 ‘foreign personnel analysis platform.’
The invitation to tender lays out specifications for a program that mines Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for data on ‘well known Western media journalists’ and other ‘key personnel from political, business and media circles.’
‘We are competing with the US and Western media, the battle for the right to speak has begun,’ it said. . .The software should run 24 hours a day, according to the specifications, and map the relationships between target personnel and uncover ‘factions’ between personnel, measuring their ‘China tendencies’ and building an alarm system that automatically flags ‘false statements and reports on China.’
Warning systems like the one outlined in the China Daily document are described in over 90 percent of tenders that list technical specifications, The Post’s review of the documents show.
Two people who work as analysts in public opinion analysis units contracted by government agencies in Beijing told The Post that they receive automated alarms via SMS, email and on dedicated computer monitors when ‘sensitive’ content was detected. . .Suppliers of the systems vary. The China Daily awarded its contract to Beijing’s Communications University, one of a half dozen Chinese universities that have launched specialized departments to develop public opinion analysis technology.
However, some of the most prolific public opinion monitoring services are provided to police and government agencies by state media themselves. . .In one tender won by the People’s Daily Online, the Beijing Police Intelligence Command Unit purchased a $30,570 service to trawl foreign social media and produce reports on unspecified ‘key personnel and organizations,’ gathering information on their ‘basic circumstances, background and relationships.’”