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How the Chinese Government Fakes Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction [pdf] (harvard.edu)
121 points by pulisse 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



Not sure about others but I find myself practicing doublethink when juggling between Chinese media and Western media and have no symptoms of cognitive dissonance. To me it's just a matter of perspective.

Maybe we need to take that into account when discussing the impact of propaganda.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublethink


ElsaGate, enabled by Google and Disney (which owns at least network which owns at least one involved channel) and consisting faked videos for toddlers for strategic destruction and some sort of weird grooming. needles? taping people up? humiliating parents? kids driving cars? adults drugging people and getting them pregnant including minors? eating loads of feces? brand products left, right and center? verified accounts? monetized videos? people begging for removal since last year? but oh yeah look what China is doing.

anyone feel like data crunching? crunch this.

https://gitlab.com/elsagate/blacklist/raw/master/blacklist.t...

and while the data is downloading -- because it's not possible that a community of hackers would look the other way when blatant child abuse (that's defined by what happens to the child, not what the perpetrator gets out of it) is going down directly under their nose or even hands, right? right? it's brain hacking, it's technology, it's mystery, it's capitalism, it's SV, what more do you want? nevermind the material responsibility, the real harm done to, the needless additional pain in the lifes of kids who 'just' get left to autoplay on youtube for long enough -- read this maybe:

https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-in...

edit: whoever downvoted this without argument, you'll think back to this and feel bad, if you're lucky and both informed and human enough. no more needs to be said. the info is there, CRUNCH THE DATA.


From the Medium article: Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale...

Um... hell of a claim, a giant list of videos and a blog post don't scream evidence of anything to me. A search for the keyword ElsaGate turns up little more than r/Conspiracy threads, which is a warning flare IMO. The Guardian article on it seems more reasonable, and basically makes the unstated point that this is a shitty parenting issue more than anything else.

Don't let your toddler hook up to the damned internet unsupervised!!!


> A search for the keyword ElsaGate turns up little more than r/Conspiracy threads, which is a warning flare IMO.

So is the fact that you either lie so blatantly, or did look into this so little. I told you about it, the ball was in your half of the field, this is what you did with it. May you live a long life. You victim blaming, hands washing...

> Don't let your toddler hook up to the damned internet unsupervised!!!

Says the person who wrote the above? The fuck outta here, I want to speak to your parents.


The authors are overstating their case when they assume that why the 50 cent party posters are not engaging in discussion must be a result of an intentional Chinese government strategy. The moniker "50 cent party" comes from the idea that the members make 50 cents for each post they make. They aren't really making 50 cents per post, but if they are operating in a system which incentivizes them to make more posts, then they are not going to engage in discussion because that takes too much time. To get a higher post count it is easier to spam cheerleading posts that would be appropriate in any discussion context. The more simple explanation for the observed behavior is human nature rather than an intentional Chinese government strategy.


The 50. Ent strategy has evolved though. It’s named that way because originally government porpaganda farms paid 50 cents per post, but the Chinese government isn’t a bunch of idiots. They have adapted and evolved their astroturfing strategies. There almost certainly are simple 50 cent style post farms operating, but they are also operating taste-maker and influencer programmes as well. It’s a spectrum from the original 50 cent guys at one end, right up to the presenters on state television talk shows at the other. The 50 cent moniker is used just for convenience.


I think your comment misses the paper's point. You're talking about the motivations of individual posters working within an incentive system created by the Chinese government. The paper isn't concerned with such individual motivations, but instead with the motivations of the Chinese government in creating that system.


Whenever I read this stuff, I imagine similar articles about the US government.

We don’t do it the same way. US government officials will “leak” certain information to the press, knowing the press will take it and run.

The goal is the same. The government wants to strategically distract the populace.


The same thing happens in Australia too. We have some scandal in a state government and then some poor sod conveniently gets eaten by a shark and we're in for three months of nothing but "Shark cull: Yes or No?", "How you can avoid being eaten by a shark", "Huge Protests Against Proposed Shark Cull", "Building a Net To Keep Sharks Out", "Sharks are a Vital Part of Our Aquatic Ecosystem", blah blah blah. It's pretty blatant. What happened with the Mayor's kid and the drug lab? Who cares?! SHARKS!


Are you suggesting that the government causes shark attacks? Do they control the sharks, or just have agents to push the swimmers into their jaws?

Seriously though, democratic governments are much less good at propaganda operations than despotic ones, not necessarily because the people involved are much more honest on an individual level, but just because democratically elected governments are never really in all that much agreement about what sort of propaganda ought to be spread. The genius of democracy is that if you keep the people in power constantly fighting with each other they don't have as much time left over to screw the rest of us.

So although "whatabout the US?" is inevitably the top comment on every thread about the evils of China, I think that just sometimes we ought to actually pay attention to China qua China.


I think the point is that shark attacks are non-news, and the surge in interest is suspicious. You can probably replace 'shark attack' with any other 1-in-10-million occurrence/human interest story.

Of course, the cynical interpretation is that there's nothing weird going on, and people just have a larger attention span for gruesome fluke accidents than for corruption.


Shark attacks are no more non-news than at least 80% of the crap that fills media outlets, and it's not the least bit suspicious. Shark attacks are lurid and scary and human attention is notoriously poorly distributed.

Yesterday, President Trump gave a speech about his trip to Asia, and 90% of the headlines were about the fact that he drank water during it.


Two sips?! Impeach that rice and cherry pie eating koi-killer!


It's not comparable at all. Leaking stories to media organizations independent of the government, who may or may not report it, and who may or may not report it in the manner that the government wishes, is not the same thing as wholesale propaganda on a massive scale.

As the U.S. president regularly demonstrates in his complaints (and as all his predecessors did, to a lesser degree) the U.S. government has little power over the news media and is very unhappy with what they do.

I do think the government's ability to place favorable stories and narratives in News Corp. publications (Fox, Wall St Journal) might be comparable as a propaganda operation. My sense is that that's their primary purpose. But it's still different; News Corp has the choice of whether to comply.


I find this comment upsetting for a few reasons.

1. It's a blatant example of whataboutism[0], and a discussion of the reprecussions/implications of Chinese social manipulation can be had entirely without bringing America into the picture.

2. Even if we accept that we do the same thing, that in no way justifies it in either place, as you seem to suggest in a comment below

3. If you've read the article you'll see that distracting from the topic is a key tactic the propagandists use to derail discussion. I'm going to be generous and not assume you're in that basket, but can you see why your response might seem tone-deaf in that context?

4. The extent to which China has been experimenting with social manipulation is so beyond the pale of anything that happens in the US. [1][2][3]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whataboutism [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System [2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/muslims-china-police-state... [3] https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/07/24/china_installing_mo...


We don’t really have to bring the US into this, do we?


They try so hard to make everything about America... I've noticed that so many people on this site are incredibly cynical, it's sad. They're so wedded to conspiratorial thinking they lose sight of reality.


People love having something to hate and someone to blame for things not being ideal. It sure is a lot easier than acknowledging that the world is incredibly complex and nuanced.


With my statement I make no assumptions on the intentions or advocacy that they reader may want to relay. I want to keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand, with relevant discussion.


This is not conspiratorial thinking, it's verified fact. The world is not run by completely well-intentioned people, just as it's not run by completely evil-intentioned people. Just people, which can be capable of both


Speaking of being cynical and conspiratorial, I think you're making more out of this than there really is.

HN is hosted in the United States and that's where most of the readers are. It's natural for a person to use their own country as a comparison in discussions about governments and countries that are foreign to them.

There's no conspiracy, and the same thing happens on any discussion site where a majority of users are from a specific country.


The reason to bring US into discussions like this is more because it's a familiar comparison, and less of whataboutism.

When you look at something objectively, it's hard to know how sinister (or lack thereof) it is. Because most folks here live in the U.S., it makes the comparison easier.


I see no specific phenomena referenced in the relation to the 50 cent party. It is an overtly broad reference with no examples that have clear comparisons to the paper and it’s topic. This is a definite text book example of thinly disguised whataboutism


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correct_the_Record

"Correct the Record was a super PAC founded by David Brock. It supported Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. The super PAC aimed to find and confront social media users who posted unflattering messages about Clinton and paid anonymous tipsters for unflattering scoops about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, including audio and video recordings and internal documents."


Yep, that's an example of what a social media based propaganda campaign looks like in the US.

Thankfully, though, there are very important differences to what it looks like in China. Correct the Record has only the resources of one political party, not the entire government, and it exists in opposition to a bunch of equally well funded forces from the other party. You're free to call CTR out on their bullshit, whereas calling the CCP out on its bullshit can easily lead to prison camp or death.

In the US there are meme wars, but in China there are none -- just a boot stamping on the face of a Pepe forever.


Why wouldn’t we?

I dislike the way much of our media talks about “bad” things China does without discussing how the US does similar things. “Hacking” is the one I hear about China doing all the time, despite it being well known that the US government is heavily involved in global hacking efforts and is in fact the strongest player in the field. Yet I hear little about that and too much about China and Russias efforts there.

Perhaps if we acknowledged that all nations do these things, we’d have a different outlook on the issue than we would if we imagined this was a problem with “them”.


Exactely. China is playing the same game as the West has for at least decade now. Examples that come to mind [1,2].

===

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/nov/20/mondaymediasec...

[2] HBGary was contracted by the USG to build a tool that is "creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated "persona management" software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online."

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2231471

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-op...


Yes. The Chinese are learning this from the US. A powerful disinformation capability is so much more important in the US because of free speech.


How is China learning this from the US? Chinese manipulation of social media is well known to be vast and incredibly coordinated. There just isn't evidence that the US government is engaged in anything approaching the Chinese scale.

Sure we have tremendous surveillance capabilities, but we use them to detect criminal and terroristic behavior, not to police thought crime in the same way that China does. Don't be silly.

It's so fashionable for pseudo-intellectuals to adopt a cynicism-all-the-time mentality, especially about America, but it's really just lazy thinking.


It makes me wonder how the conspiracy people think this stuff is orchestrated. Does it all get planned out by one council of secret overlords masterminding the flow of public information? How many people are in on the secret? What is their end goal?

...Or maybe social dynamics and global relationships are more complex than that and patterns emerge even without the need for a conspiracy behind them...


It doesn't take but a modicum of research to know these answers. I'd expect HN commenters to be better than speaking out of ignorance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_in_the_United_State...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_on_Public_Informatio...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Information_Agen...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_Secretary_of_State_for_P...

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-brown/propaganda-public-...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent

And this doesn't even begin to get into the deep collusion between the government and the media with lobbying, regulatory capture, government appointments, politicians on corporate board seats.


"Propaganda" is an ambiguous word. By some definitions every country engages in ongoing propaganda. Especially in times of war (where the majority of these "modicum of research" you provided took place) there is sometimes a need to establish channels of communication and leadership.

Maybe it's easier to believe in a massively orchestrated conspiracy machine masterminding all of this, but I believe that the world and ongoing international affairs are slightly more nuanced than that.


What are you on about a "massively orchestrated conspiracy"? No one but you is talking about that.


Sorry, it seemed like that was being implied here but I must be mistaken.

Perhaps you were simply referring to the normal complexity one would expect out of a diverse crowd of interests from bodies of government and businesses acting in ways that sometimes overlap when you said:

> "deep collusion between the government and the media with lobbying, regulatory capture, government appointments, politicians on corporate board seats"


>in times of war

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_mili...


Well, in the case of Chinese, most of people learned and are used to stop questioning/exploring/discussing/thinking/caring almost all of the unfiltered information. There is little room to be picky about the food tailor-made and there are even a lot of candies in the past few years. Why bother caring something you can not change/do/affect and sometimes may hurt yourself? More candies brings stronger heart beats and bigger bodies, too.


China is a historic nation reaching back thousands of years, inventor of mass foreign policy, bureaucracy, and more. She has no need to learn governance, nor the art of influence from the United States


This is just stupid. Does Ethiopia have nothing to learn from the rest of the world because that's where humanity (probably) invented fire? Good, useful information spreads regardless of whether a country invented any arbitrary institution in the past


China has a long history of central control of the media, censorship, state propaganda and bureaucratic control all of which are directly relevant to this particular topic. All the poster is doing is pointing that out. It isn’t Ethiopia.


China has institutional knowledge reaching back thousands of years. It does not need US expertise on how to handle foreign policy nor governance. It is arguable that the top layers of society such as technological progress, social hygiene, consumer culture, etc., hold value and are worthy of integration, however, the critical mass of civilization and intelligence within greater Chinese history serves as the best guide for their national affairs.


You say that as if there isn't a massive amount of innovation transfer in all fields, going both ways, with the China and the US, let alone most other countries.

National pride is disgusting.


I am not Chinese, however I can recognize it’s great contributions to humanity. I hold this nation in upmost respect, though I disagree strongly with its domestic policies.

This has nothing to do with national pride and everything to do with the highest respect toward something that is greater, older and much wiser than myself.


We call it “Public Relations”.



In the context of the government and politicians it's actually called "Perception Management" although the tactics are the same.


I wonder if these researchers ever visited the Chinese internet? They dissect their heirarchy and composition, yet not their effectiveness or reputation?

The Chinese people see 50 mao bots from 10 miles away. The very nature of the internet makes humanity question truth and authority. So many sources to visit, so many opinions and so angles to reflect upon. Themes and patterns don’t go so quietly unnoticed on the internet.

It seems that even many, many of these sources are far behind, though it is a new policy that US researchers are encouraged to dissect Chinese institutions publicly.

This paper would have been groundbreaking in 2010-pre Snowden. Sadly, it is a hay in the growing stack of a US-engineered lashing at Chinese domestic policies.


> The Chinese people see 5[0] mao bots from 10 miles away > The very nature of the internet makes humanity question truth and authority

The short answer would be, these aren't really targeting people who can tell the difference and/or ask questions. Instead, the tech-illiterate, senior citizens (largely regardless of education level), rural "guest workers", etc..

It's the Nigerian scam game. Maximize # people affected per $.


It would be good to do a similar analysis of the Indian government.


Indian Govt is totally inefficient. It is impossible as there are too many states, too many languages, too many view points and first of all, it is not even needed. Political parties (Be it state level or central) have enough money, machinery to throw dirt on each other through every kind of media. Coupled with the age old methods of vote buying, throwing freebies or use of religion/region/language/caste "cards" always work !


Today the white house boasted about US capabilities with respect to 0days and vulnerability disclosure. [1]

Their silence on the topic of state-sponsored astroturfing is deafening.

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/11/15/improving-and-mak...


http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/politics/under-bush-a-new-...

Back in 2005, the White House was shipping propaganda to be broadcast by local TV news stations across USA


Thank you for sharing, I was not aware of this.




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