China’s power of opinion online: 1,000 comments per second


Status: 06.09.2021 10:23 a.m.

For the first time, documents show how China is trying to influence opinion on the Internet. The story in the first shows how Chinese authorities demand up to 1000 comments from service providers for orders.

By Marcel Kolvenbach and Marilina Görz y Moratalla, SWR

There has been much speculation about China’s influence on foreign social media. There are no reliable numbers. It is known so far that Beijing uses millions of volunteer and employed opinion makers in the Chinese social networks to bring the mood on the party line. One speaks of the “50 Cent Army” with reference to the remuneration for the “private” comments posted on social media on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Explosive documents

Now shows the Story in the first “The secret opinion makers” exclusive documents that give a new picture. She was discovered by the sinologist and Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund, Mareike Ohlberg. During her research, the author of the book “The Silent Conquest – How China is infiltrating Western democracies and rearranging the world” came across tenders that, according to Ohlberg, come from Chinese security authorities. It describes requirement profiles for the services that are to be provided for the authority. They show, according to Ohlberg, how China is arming itself in the fight for the sovereignty of opinion in foreign social media.

The documents attached to the SWR have been translated independently by two sworn translators for the documentation. It lists requirements for companies such as “Providing intelligent and effective public opinion: using multiple proxy IPs and accounts with multiple IP comments”.

Ultra-fast postings surprise IT experts

IT experts, to whom we presented the documents, were surprised by the required scope of the measures and the technical speed of the operations resulting from the tender. According to Ohlberg, orders are put out to specialists, such as the “use of big data, cloud computing technology, through intelligent contributions and answers, etc., in order to distribute content more effectively via the channels”. Further requirements are mentioned: “Support of 200,000 websites for the targeted retrieval of more than ten million information sources, scan of the entire network within 30 minutes, detection within minutes.”

For countermeasures to influence public opinion, ultra-fast postings are required – with [einer] individual posting frequency of up to 1000 posts and more per second. The tender wish list goes on to state: “Support for more than five million Internet IPs, over 1000 accounts from news websites, over one million online forums, as well as over 1000 Twitter accounts, over 1000 Facebook accounts and over 1000 YouTube accounts. “

Networks in China blocked

Above all, Ohlberg sees the latter accounts as a clear indication that the tender is also explicitly about influencing foreign social media, because Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked in China and only accessible via VPN.

Ohlberg therefore sees the document as evidence of the influence abroad. “This is not just about influencing internal Chinese sides and discourses, but actually also about debates abroad, she says – and emphasizes that this document comes from the Bureau for Security in Tierling in northeast China,” by Chinese standards rather a Town. Even cities like this want to be able to post such comments on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, “comments Ohlberg. The figures given there should therefore only reflect a fraction of China’s cyber capacities.

Embassy speaks of “exchange”

When confronted with the numbers from the tender text, the Chinese embassy did not deny the data, but responded to it SWR On request: “Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (count) like the Chinese social media WeChat and Weibo are among the media that are accessible to everyone as soon as the legal requirements in the respective country are complied with. We hope, of course, that mutual understanding and exchange between the populations of both countries is to be constantly advanced and expanded on these platforms. “

However, this exchange with the Chinese population is not possible in practice, as the people in China can only bypass the censorship using special software such as VPN or a proxy in order to use social media outside of China. Ohlberg emphasized that many people do not dare to use these channels either: “It is not directly punishable, but there is a great deal of uncertainty as to when you can be prosecuted if you do something and that is why people are more cautious . “

The corona pandemic and the current dispute with the WHO about China as the country of origin of the virus make it clear that the leadership of China must have a great interest in gaining the authority to interpret its own reading in Western media. Political decisions, such as possible sanctions against China, also depend on public opinion.

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