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Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction (gking.harvard.edu)
293 points by Lionsion 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments



When the NY Times covered the Chinese robotic moon landing, it was in the top 10 stories for more than a week. In the most space-jaded country on the planet. The rating was sustained by constant comments by Chinese studying in the US and burnishing their reps with the Party. You can almost always make Chinese English, an AI program could be trained to do it. I wrote to their ombudsman. Down in a day.


Very interesting. I always get that uncanny valley feeling even on Hacker News, especially when the comments concern China. This would explain a lot.


50c party is widely accepted as real a thing as Russian troll farms during the election, but I'd be skeptical if HN is a target. (I don't think you need an academic paper to 'prove' it's a real thing.)

The reason you read defensive comments on HN (even from me) is due to how easily anti-China criticism slides from legitimate policy discussion into raw, tribal racism. I simply feel it is my duty to call out anti-Chinese racism when it comes across my path, not just because it makes me mad.


In the interest of productive discussion, what do you perceive as racism?

It's rare that I come across comments about China that are legitimately racist on HN. I get some people are and some discussion is that, but more than anything I see genuine concern about how the government is acting and given how the government controls that nation, that's where the criticism can seem so wholesale.

But what do you feel is a racist criticism? I ask because I'm a huge critic of the Chinese government (and many other governments) but don't desire to be racist or to be perceived as that way.

One of the most stubborn critics of China (and Chinese culture) I know is Chinese. If I didn't now that I'd perceive him as racist but he just doesn't like what decades of the Cultural Revolution etc have produced no more than many Americans don't like what decades of materialism/world domination has produced.


> It's rare that I come across comments about China that are legitimately racist on HN

Perhaps your threshold has a different set-point from mine (and from people who are the target of similar comments). I include conscious and unconscious bias, and Chinese people are just as capable of anti-China racism as women are capable of being sexist.*

The same people who criticize the Chinese government for not allowing Facebook and Google to operate in China (even after Cambridge Analytica) will defend not allowing Huawei to be sold by carriers in the U.S. The same people who, when it is pointed out that Foxconn's suicide rate is lower than the population average, will say that any non-zero number is too high. Do they change their tune if it's pointed out that Foxconn is a Taiwanese company and not a Mainland one? You know the type -- in a later breath, they will just as easily say that Chinese people can't / won't innovate, and can only copy.

There was a story in Sheryl Sandberg's _Lean In_ about an experiment where 2 resumes were being considered for a police chief: one candidate had more solid work experience, and the other had more impressive education history. The 2 experimental conditions assigned a male or a female name to each resume, and most subjects (including female participants) chose the male resume, and they'd say it was because of work experience or education that they picked it. If your threshold for sexism includes that, and you adjust your racism threshold similarly, you'll find that a lot of comments have this ... _unconscious bias_ for some reason.

* Criticism of what the Cultural Revolution has produced does not fall under the same umbrella. No one likes what it produced, even the leadership currently in power in China, who suffered in their youth.

Edit: comment in threads down below include ">his stupid uneducated bimbo of a wife" in reference to China's first lady. Here's what CNN has to say about her:

"Peng is arguably more famous than her husband. She has millions of fans... She is a major general in the People's Liberation Army and is China's AIDS ambassador to the United Nations." http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/20/thursdays-intriguing-pe...


I'm sorry. Where were you when your counterparts kept calling Michelle Obama a "monkey" or Tsai, the President of Taiwan a "old maid", "japanese collaborator" and other things?


I'll believe that when people begin identifying anti-Russian racism. Almost anything can be framed to look like a certain thing it wasn't.

I guess one could claim anti-Russian racism if we take all the "Russian trolls" comments as being not about the alleged actions and their contexts but rather about how that represents Russians in general to the American audience.


Could you please provide some example of hacker news comments you consider racist or otherwise worth fighting against?


How about right there the post he is responding to? Especially considering the context provided by the earlier post:

"... constant comments by Chinese studying in the US and burnishing their reps with the Party. You can almost always make Chinese English, an AI program could be trained to do it. "

Do you think following up that with

"Very interesting. I always get that uncanny valley feeling even on Hacker News, especially when the comments concern China. This would explain a lot."

has racism undertone or not? If you don't see things right in front of your eyes I don't know what else could convince you.

Add: Okay I see there are people who don't like what I said, so I will spell out more about my rationale. Firstly I didn't call out the earlier post other than using it as the context. I don't think that author could have known that the comments truly were from "Chinese studying in the US" and for "burnishing their reps with the Party", but in the context of discussing propaganda I accept that at least has plausibility. The follow-on post then points to HN, which concerns the posters here including myself. The exact meaning of the poster is somewhat ambiguous to me, however in light of the earlier comment I get the feeling that anyone who comments on China with a view and maybe language skill different from his is stereotyped both with race and motivation.


I see you're being downvoted but I agree with you. I cringed when I read "Chinese studying in the US" and "burnishing their reps with the Party". OP is probably not racist but this is a clear case of ascribing motivations to people you know nothing about.

If I was permitted the same liberty of ascribing, I'd guess that it betrays an unconscious bias against Chinese people. It's probably not something Americans would be attuned to. But as a non-white (but not Chinese) immigrant myself, my radar is probably more sensitive to it.


yeah thats quite a reach you’re making my dude


> 50c party is widely accepted as real a thing as Russian troll farms during the election, but I'd be skeptical if HN is a target.

I wouldn't; HN is obviously recognized as something an important influence node for an important (if not necessarily large number itself) segment of society. Why wouldn't 50c or Russian troll farms target it just as non-state-sponsored activists obviously do?


Counter point: lots of people are just very, very passionate about their country and have even less sense of perspective on social media.

I remember well over a decade ago a student wrote a comment piece about the PRC in my UK university, which had a large Chinese student population. It was a fairly bad comment piece that felt like the student in question was angling for a slot at one of the UK's very right wing tabloids (funnily enough the student journalist is now a well-respected commentator at the FT) but its fundamental point was the fairly uncontroversial observation that the Chinese government isn't democratic and has very different foreign policy priorities than the West. It's possible, of course, that some of the outrage on the threads below the article on the website from people apparently incapable of distinguishing between disparagement of government and insults to ordinary people was orchestrated by a higher power, even though English student media probably isn't top of the CCCP's list of priorities now, never mind in the early 2000s.

But a lot of the hysterical commentary about how deeply offensive and discriminatory it was towards Chinese people that ended up in the print edition came from named people who were actually overseas students at the university.

People being willing to spend their free time manufacturing the same outrage or enthusiasm others receive full time incomes for manufacturing isn't exactly a uniquely Chinese thing either...


You get an uncanny valley feeling because the Western media always exaggerates the degree of how Orwellian or how much influence the Chinese government really has, so that they can get more clicks from people unfamiliar with China or who are mildly racist.


So I find this view really interesting because there is ultimately very little racism about dislike for the Chinese government. Most people’s misgivings have much more to do with the fact that a) no one wants to see fellow humans living in a distopia, and b) people look to China as an indication of where the world may be heading in the next few decades. Feeling apprehension about seeing an opaque, oligopolistic, and decidedly undemocratic system adopt a set of policies that are frankly unthinkable to people raised in the us or Europe is completely understandable. Using the term racism is interesting because this has much more to do with ideaologies and values than it does with race.


To someone that believes the CCP, "China" and the Han ethnicity are equivalent, it is racist to dislike the government. This equivalence is basically official policy, and also ambiguous phrases like "Chinese people" further such equivalence.


I disagree. Having been to China more than 30 times, I can tell you that the reality is worse.


This is based on what?


Based on all the articles published about China in the past decade. Wired is especially egregious because they start a lot of misinformation.

In 2011, their headline of Foxconn was "1 Million workers, 90 Million Iphones, 17 suicides" despite the US suicide rate being much higher. Now, you still hear people talking about how terrible Apple and Foxconn are despite both being very desirable places to work for.

More recently, Wired released an article about China's plans for a social credit system. The article equated this with private credit scoring systems such as Sesame credit, even though they have nothing to do with each other. Yes, the social credit system is a bit extreme. Yes, Sesame credit is kind of creepy (but so is Facebook). No, China didn't decide to turn itself into a Brave New World.


Or something like a comment thread where half the comments pointing out other governments do propaganda are flagged to hell, like this section.


In this very case, the topic is how the country in the post is doing it.

Isn't talking about another country a distraction from that?


The topic is propaganda, that other countries and organizations like companies do that is related to the topic. If that's unrelated, pointing out the random articles dealing with China ever is also unrelated. (A freaking article about the Moon lander for pete's sake)

I don't think "China" is a reason enough for things to be under the same topic.


No, the topic is "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument" which is the topic of the paper published.

It's not "A paper on country propaganda".


The paper is about the CCP's propaganda techniques on its own people, not driving numbers for nyt articles (US media). The people in this thread are tying it to other events that are related only because they have to do with China. That's what I mean in that it's tangentially related.

I don't think tangentially related things are bad. I do think it's upsetting when some tangentially related things are bad but others aren't for strange reasons.


> pointing out the random articles dealing with China ever is also unrelated. (A freaking article about the Moon lander for pete's sake)

Which was observed to have had anomalous commenting behavior.

I think it's an important question to consider if the 50 Cent Party operates on non-Chinese forums, and the observation in that comment is relevant to that question.

> The topic is propaganda, that other countries and organizations like companies do that is related to the topic.

And the topic of the Xinjiang re-education camp thread, judging by the comments, must have been "everything bad that any country has ever done ever." /s


The inevitable "whataboutism" comments that any discussion of China generates are indeed just noise.


That's probably a good reason. The thing is I get sick of the moralizing that underlies all these threads, as if our media doesn't do the exact same thing. re: manufacturing consent.

The thing is there's this strange, "uncanny" feeling I get whenever these things are shared too, all of a sudden, HN readers who are usually critical start to coalesce around a common fear of the other.


>The thing is I get sick of the moralizing that underlies all these threads, as if our media doesn't do the exact same thing. re: manufacturing consent.

But this is exactly the whataboutism I'm talking about.

The point of the article is that our media doesn't do the exact same thing. When Chomsky and Herman talked about "manufacturing consent", they didn't mean that there is literally a cabal of media companies and the government guiding the American media. However in China there is, in fact, a documented, government-sponsored program to manipulate Chinese media.

If you want to discuss the problem of manufactured consent in the US or the West, start a thread about that, but don't clutter this discussion with irrelevant derails seemingly designed to muddy the waters and deflect from the point of the discussion.


> The thing is I get sick of the moralizing that underlies all these threads, as if our media doesn't do the exact same thing

You do realize this is false equivalency / whataboutism?


> The thing is there's this strange, "uncanny" feeling I get whenever these things are shared too

I posted this because I got super frustrated with all the derails and distractions that utterly destroyed the Xinjiang indoctrination camp post from yesterday. If you don't believe me you can look at my comment history.


Your comment history is extremely problematic for Hacker News, because you've been using it to engage in nationalistic flamewar. I don't care what your views are or which nations you have feelings about: doing this is as toxic as it gets.

Edit: actually you went so far over the line that we banned the account. No one is allowed to turn HN into nationalistic hell, regardless of which nation they're fighting for.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17108836


Okay, so I understand how you feel. The thing is I clicked on that post and the top comments are critical of indoctrination camps. There's one top-level comment you replied to that pointed out an irony given the imprisoned population here in the US.

The article details, AFAICT, the CCP's attempts to spread propaganda to its own people, not to the west, although I have no doubts it does try to spread it elsewhere. So given that, what is the likelihood that most of the critical, anti-US comments are in fact CCP propaganda hires? I don't know, but it seems a little bit much to assume everything is a plot to subvert people's opinions.

I'm not a propagandist. I agree with the sentiment in the comment on that article (I missed) about the US imprisoned population. People can disagree with you and point out opinions you disagree with.

I said earlier, somewhat sarcastically, it sucks that people are pushing things in this comment thread and voting down and flagging comments that point out other countries do the same. I am always somewhat paranoid, and anyone would given Snowden leaks and having read history about things like COINTELPRO, etc., but it was somewhat tongue in cheek (yes, I'm not perfect, I say mean things online like most people). Do I really believe all of you are US gov't plants trying to sway people to be belligerent to China? I don't think so.

I get we should keep our eyes open, but we should be willing to accept that there are people who disagree with us, and not everyone who disagrees with us is a Russian/Chinese/etc bot. I'm actually really bothered by the attitude online these days that calls everyone who disagrees with us as being an astroturf. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it really helps to further strengthen the echo chambers we've created for ourselves.


Your post is pretty much the definition of whataboutism.

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


Which Social Network was this observed on?

Wasn't that landing 5 years ago? Any more recent examples?

I get nothing when I search HN for the NYT article

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=As%20Rover%20Lands,%20China%20...

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=https:%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F...


Personally I was disappointed by the lack of coverage this landing got. Same with their space station. I'm genuinely interested in this, but the Chinese won't translate articles/sources themselves, and given the (strategic? image-preserving?) indifference by the US, I can't find any content about them in English. I find this really annoying.


>(strategic? image-preserving?) indifference

Neither, it's apathy. The US media doesn't really cover the space exploits of its allies in Europe or Japan either, unless it's something really huge. I think the US views other countries doing things in space it already did decades ago as boring. When China does something that surpasses what the US has done, like building a Moon base or a manned Mars mission, there will be plenty of coverage.

Even this specific point of discussion, the Chinese "moon landing", is just landing a rover there, not a person, so it's not really very notable for Americans.


I'm not sure what kind of articles you're looking for, but here is the English website of the China National Space Administration: http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/n6443408/index.html

As a non-government source, the South China Morning post is the closest thing to an independent newspaper and they have a collection of articles about the Yutu rover: http://www.scmp.com/topics/jade-rabbit-lunar-rover



What corpus did you train off?


Sounds very Markov-chain like, doesn’t it? But I think it’s just written in an annoying way: sentences that seem short, choppy, and cut off, with very little context to string them together.


> The rating was sustained by constant comments by Chinese studying in the US and burnishing their reps with the Party.

I can believe it. The Chinese government apparently paying students to wave flags when their officials come visit [1]. Since they manage to do that successfully, it wouldn't surprise me if they do similar things with internet comments.

[1] http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/07/chinas-long-arm-reaches-...


There is a more specific term for folks like that, they are being referred as the 50 cent party.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50_Cent_Party


Interesting. The whole thing is so simple. A government wants to get their message out quickly and efficiently before negative stories get too much attention. So, how to do it cost effectively? Simple, ask normal government employees to write pro-government posts on social media when they get time. Plus their career prospects improve if they do it. Finally a reminder on certain days about their duty to spread the good news about the government.

I guess the only weakness in the whole scheme is people reporting back to an authority about their work. I am pretty sure they got rid of that after the leak. The genius of this thing is that if you ask the people who write these posts if they are doing propaganda, there's a good chance that their initial genuine response will be to say no.


> if you ask the people who write these posts if they are doing propaganda, there's a good chance that their initial genuine response will be to say no.

Actually, they'll probably say yes. Most Chinese do not think of propaganda as something negative. Every student club at my university has an unironically named "propaganda department" that manages their social media. "Propaganda" just never underwent the value shift that happened in other countries, so although there's a translation of "PR" almost nobody uses the word.


I briefly worked at a (US) company who upon hiring you provided you with copy to post on both LinkedIn and Glassdoor. I genuinely liked the people so I didn't object or even mention how tasteless this was. Instead I just bailed.

Same shit IMO.


This is great.

Please, please let this concept enter the general public's mind.


>Please, please let this concept enter the general public's mind.

Especially salient because the idea of censorship in the form of bookburning or restricting speech is still way too dominant (especially in American culture).

Information overflow and deflection through a sheer barrage of garbage and misinformation seems to be the new (and much more effective) MO.


>Information overflow and deflection through a sheer barrage of garbage and misinformation seems to be the new

Nothing new actually. The whole concept is pretty old.

Looks like after trying to follow "guidelines" from Orwell's "1984", we are just trying Huxley's "Brave New World".


> Looks like after trying to follow "guidelines" from Orwell's "1984", we are just trying Huxley's "Brave New World".

This guy gets it. I absolutely agree that China needs the searing scrutiny of the world for the sake of its people and the world but China is also still in absolute infantile stages of propaganda sophistication. Straight up censorships and news suppressions are things the West did in WWI. Astroturfing is a step up but operating under the premise of a palatable freedom of information and political choice while being inundated with what to think without ever receiving 'literal fake news' is light-years ahead of China.


Yea, I'd argue the whole goal of Western government operators is to create a well-oiled propaganda machine. Everything else is a negotiation.


Information overflow and deflection through a sheer barrage of garbage and misinformation seems to be the new (and much more effective) MO.

It's not just information overflow, but relevance and objective importance.

Given this lens, is CNN & Co any less deceptive than the Chinese gov.? Same means, just different ends. The Chinese gov seeks control, the MSM profits. (I'll pass on the MSM being a proxy for the US gov, to keep it simple.)

The end result is that minds are mmanipulated, and urgent issues and truths are hidden in a blur of overload and further burried under a pile of pointless horse shit.


Oh Dear!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8moePxHpvok

Information/Tragedy buffer overflow attacks basically.


I definitely hope so. I also hope this awareness doesn't stop at our borders since this type of astroturfing is exactly the official playbook in various ShareBlue/Media Matters type PACs https://i.redd.it/oij2wau47fdy.jpg (though with better use of euphemisms, a game at which China is still in an infantile stage).

It is as deeply ingrained as it can get in American public online discourse https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?two_year_transaction...


Do you mean the concept that:

"Any/all organizations can/do seed a particular narrative to serve their strategic purposes" ?


I doubt it, since that's not at all what the paper describes. Here's a quote from the abstract:

> In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We show that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.


Don Draper: "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation."


It's toasted.


The method is different perhaps, which is interesting. I think that is an interesting point of discussion.

In terms of intent or morality or whatever, it's just a different method for propaganda. I don't see this as a different category for what other governments have done in the past.


I agree. Distraction can be really disruptive to having meaningful, productive discussions. I think many people even do it reflexively even if they're not getting paid or instructed to. There was a recent HN post about terrible reeducation camps in Xinjiang [1]. Almost no one talked about the heartbreaking story or what it might mean, as most of the comments were tired derails into "the US is bad, too" territory and responses to them. I'm pretty sure the story got quickly buried because the flame-war detector got tripped. I'm sure the Chinese censors' hearts would flutter a little if they learned about that.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17091072


Whether you are correct or not about the re-education camps post, accusing the government of sending groups of real (let's define real as regular HN contributors with at least 10 karma pts) people to deflect/defend on a HN post is a technically a conspiracy theory.

>Almost no one talked about the heartbreaking story or what it might mean, as most of the comments were tired derails into "the US is bad, too" territory and responses to them.

I saw that thread and I agree with your take, but unfortunately that's just a normal product of online discourse, not special to China-related topics. My guess is that people who live in the US saw an opportunity to call attention to prison reform rather than Chinese who wanted to deflect attention from the original article.


Robert Anton Wilson, in the introduction he wrote for some other book, pointed out that, of the regime changes to occur in the last century, well over half of them were the result of some sort of coup d'état. In other words, conspiracy is the norm.

"Lesson number one: trust no one. The minute God crapped out the third caveman, a conspiracy was hatched against one of them."


> accusing the government of sending groups of real (let's define real as regular HN contributors with at least 10 karma pts) people to deflect/defend on a HN post is a technically a conspiracy theory.

I never claimed that in my comment, you should read it more closely.

What I did claim is that regular HN posters will often comment (for their own reasons) in a way that would make the Chinese propagandists and censors happy.


Yes we often agree with the Russians too. We think it's because we'll agree with the truth wherever we see it, but it's quite possible that you know our minds better than we ourselves do.

Do you think we're in an "information war"? If we are, who are our most dangerous opponents?


When I read that thread, I wondered at those comments. They always come up in these discussions. I always wonder how many are genuine and how many are actual government FUD.


please, just look at things like cambridge analytica, the west is way ahead, not just in its own countries, but others as well.


Xi is a very smart fellow, and he seems to sincerely want what is best for his country. That said, I think he is making some terrible mistakes. Instead of helping the population become smarter, better-informed thinkers, he is trying to turn them into robots.

Xi is creating an illusion of unity, which means if things start to go seriously wrong, there will be an explosion, as happened so many times in China's past. Citizens will lack the sort of intelligence and ability to work together that would be needed to resolve problems, and the country likely will either fall into chaos or under the rule of a malevolent emperor.

Let me add that Xi claims to be following Confucian principles, but that is not at all true. Confucianism is a set of principles that everyone from the top down was required to follow. Xi, in contrast, answers to no one, and is simply making up his own rules.

To the Chinese out there, let me say that what you need to do is get your hands on all the information you can from independent sources, and study political philosophy, so that you will be in a better position to make intelligent decisions in the future.


I agree with your starting premise about Xi and your concluding advice about independent (or at least, non-Party filtered) information.

But I don't think it's wise or diplomatic to phrase it as a growing "intelligence" deficit in Chinese people. That word is tricky enough to define as it is, but people can hold deeply one-sided views about a lot of things and still be highly intelligent.

As a counterpoint, browsing social media in open information societies and liberal democracies these days gives a sense that people can be extremely biased and polarized even without living in a closed propaganda information ecosystem.

With that criticism lodged, I agree with the spirit of your argument that a more filtered public discourse very likely makes it monotonically incrementally harder to patch any present or future social discord.


>But I don't think it's wise or diplomatic to phrase it as a growing "intelligence" deficit in Chinese people. That word is tricky enough to define as it is, but people can hold deeply one-sided views about a lot of things and still be highly intelligent.

I think the term "intelligent" has more than one meaning, and one of them is what I was trying to get at, something like "able to act in an effective manner." But perhaps you can suggest a less ambiguous term.


> Instead of helping the population become smarter, better-informed thinkers, he is trying to turn them into robots.

Robots are the only kind of people authoritarian governments are comfortable with.


> Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called 50c party posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of most posts openly accused on social media of being 50c.

I am not a native speaker. I can't parse that sentence :/.

Why is this `also` true ? In addition to what ? Wouldn't it follow that posts arguing in favour of the government's side are tagged as `50c` since `50c` seems to be defined by being `pro government` ?

And then:

> [..] we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues.

If I ignore the `also` word in the first quote it all makes sense.


"also true" is a phrase that really means "is the case as well" (as in the previous sentence).

The first sentence says that "journalists and activists" claim that if a post is written by a "50c party" poster, then it will strongly argue in favor of the Chinese government's side - instead of being more subtle, and maybe not _always_ arguing that China is 100% #1.

The second sentence says that "most posts open accused on social media of being 50c" will strongly argue in favor of the government's side, too.

I read this to mean that posts tagged as "50c" will argue for the Chinese government, and "50c party" posters will argue for the Chinese government, too, so the correspondence between the two is high.

My interpretation could be wrong, but I hope it helps!


I read those two sentences to describe an existing misconception among BOTH (sentence 1) academics/journalists/activists AND (sentence 2) people posting on social media. The misconception is that the strategy of 50c party posters is to argue loudly from the perspective of the CCP.

The following sentence in the abstract helps put it in context: "Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. "

This third sentence presents the paper's challenge to the supposed misconception.

Therefore, the concluding quote you highlight makes perfect sense as the paper's thesis for what strategy drives 50c party posts.

Edit: I agree those sentence are a bit awkward. To help parse them, eliminate some of the connecting words:

1: "Academics/journalists/activists claim 50c posts argue for government's side."

2: "This is also true of posts accused on social media of being 50c" (this = argue for government's side)

3: "Yet, no evidence exists for this claim"


I still don't get it. To me, they are saying that the general online public thinks "pro-CCP" and "50c" are the same thing, just as everyone says pro-HillaryClinton people are "Correct the Record" troops, and all pro-Trump people were Russian trolls, and all pro-Israel posters are AIPAC troops, and all shitposters are 4channers


Essentially it translates that:

* Accounts that publicly disclose as being related to group A

And

* Accounts that don't publicly mention any relationship with group A, but are frequently accused as being part of group A

Show similar behavior (always supporting the government's side).


> Why is this `also` true ? In addition to what ?

It is true in addition to being claimed.


Thanks everyone :).


I love it when we have moments like this where truth comes out (in the form of scientific research if need be) that previously was moronically dismissed (by people including government shills I'm sure) as 'conspiracy theory'.

Snowden and NSA spying was another one. Truth is not as boring as they may make you want to believe. The world is very, VERY interesting and you just have to discover it.


"In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We show that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime."

Sensible. Cuts, however, against my mental caricature of an astroturfing shill.


Kind of makes you wonder how many of these operatives on here on HN.

There are certainly blocs of people who downvote certain topics en masse.


The more influential HN is perceived the greater the problem will be.


Cutting through the rhetoric, that means simply that CCP does bog-standard PR rhetoric. No professional in PR would deign to acknowledge the existence of critics, unless those critics are too loud to ignore.


> Sensible. Cuts, however, against my mental caricature of an astroturfing shill.

Interesting. The confirmed astroturfer Monsanto[1] is a fairly active one, and though I can't prove some of the people I saw were Monsanto shills, I've never met a person in real life advocate on behalf of that company.

Anyways, their tactics were incredibly distraction-centric and ad-hominem. As soon as anybody brought up the scientific research on pesticides, they'd start comparing this position to anti-vaccine, even completely out-of-context.

It's not hard to debase a conversation so much it falls apart entirely online, which is why the technique seemed effective.

[1] https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/MDLLetNothingGo...


great food for thought that applies to any public forum, whether it's infected with these massive secret governmental operations or not.


T - 30 mins before this post gets buried. I don't understand despite the high upvote count, why do articles critical of China are not able to be in the first page for more than a couple hours.

Also, China is the new Saudi Arabia. With the economic power, they can get away with anything and actually, you can't do anything to stop that. Even Trump who was so critical wanted to help ZTE as soon as the Chinese asked for interference.


1 hour later and this story is #6 on the front page. I get it, complaining about perceived censorship is fun, but this submission hasn't quite gone full flame war yet, so I think it will stay for a while.


I think this one will stay, but mainly because the content is an inoculation against the kind of trolling that usually leads to China threads getting buried.

I do have an irrational hope that the inoculation will last for more than a single thread though.


Which would suggest that if you wanted to bury a thread you don’t downvote it but fake a flame war and then it’ll quietly go away... may need to figure out how to deal with this problem.


Well Trump appears to have changed his mind very soon after they invested 500 million in a project he was involved with.


Your comment is strictly true despite the downvotes. But, it would help to note that this is simply an observation of potentially unrelated events. Smoke but not fire.

What's more disheartening is that the latest round of (still incomplete) information indicates that he's trading back the ZTE action in exchange for the CCP walking back their own agriculture sector trade actions that were initiated during the first volleys in the trade conflict a few months ago.

That would be a deeply stupid and un-strategic trade to make. But sadly, it seems to play into the President's domestic political needs.

Edit: feel compelled to add / stress the caveat that no outcomes of the trade talks are known in full


[flagged]


Are you joking ? How literally can you be the very essence of what this article is about?

This, literally this is what that research is describing.

Stop changing the bloody subject !

Gah.

Edit: this account is a smoking gun. Have a look at the comment history.


Maybe grandparent was being ironic in their sarcasm?


We should always try to see more irony. It is a good antidote to the bullheaded self-righteous certainties that seem to plague these sorts of threads.


There is nothing more ironic than a what aboutism meeting an article about what aboutisms.


This is literally and exactly what Correct The Record (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correct_the_Record) is and is as standard as it gets in American political discourse online https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?two_year_transaction....


> This is literally and exactly what Correct The Record [...] is

No, it's not. Propaganda by competing domestic partisan interest groups seeking to influence elections in their own country is not “literally and exactly” the same thing as state sponsored propaganda.


Ah, I see where we might disagree on.

I think you would argue that from the perspective of the propaganda targets, the CCP is the establishment vying to influence public opinion and American political parties are not. They're simply political instruments in a machinery that then determines what becomes the establishment.

I'm not saying it's a binary dichotomy but I'm more leaning on the side that <oversimplification> there are no American 'political parties' in the sense that the Green Party will never be like the Canadian NDP etc </oversimplification> and the 'parties' is just an established, acceptable non-real-power-threatening Overton Window that directs shared class concerns and energy into a black hole of oxygen draining wedge issue arena.

The establishment is the establishment and money is the establishment and from that perspective, I would argue CTR is a class interest group rather than a partisan interest group.

Anyway. I think we disagree but I think it's the context we disagree on.


Political entities linked to the US government do this too.


as if we don't have our own Wag-the-Dog-ish distractions also?


This itself is a distraction. There is no "us," "we," or "them"


I can't access it on Harvard website any more. Luckily the paper is already published so if you have access to the journal, download it here: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-s...


This link doesn't work for you?

https://gking.harvard.edu/files/gking/files/how_the_chinese_...

It's the "article" link on the page, and it works for me right now.


Now it is working!


The Chinese global trollism is getting worse. From Airlines who don't label Taiwan under China to kids in primary school in Australia who paint a Taiwanese flag on a bull, the Chinese are really becoming more and more belligerent. The Chinese internet army of "hurt feelings" and stupid whataboutism and fake moral equivalence is entering HN as well.

Whenver there is any negative story about china, the downvotes happen immediately and "defends of the honor of china" pop up magically throwing dirt everywhere.

I'm sure when PG made this, having nationalistic Chinese trolls degrade the forum with their "China is always right" bs was probably not on the top of his mind.

I wonder if we can ask the mods. Is there a pattern of downvotes whenver there isa negative story about China? I wonder if a bunch of Tencent/Alibaba "patriotic chinese" simply created lots of accounts and upvoted themselves to get to the point they can downvote across their accounts to "keep the internet clean" of anything that embarasses Xi Jinping and his stupid uneducated bimbo of a wife


Your attack against Xi Jinping's wife is shameful and obviously a bannable offense. It's shameful most of all to whatever point of view or country you're representing. Who would want to be associated with something like that? If you want to continue participating on HN, please don't ever do anything like this again.

The rest of your comment is also the kind of nationalistic ranting that isn't allowed on HN. People on both sides of every strongly-felt line perceive their opponents as trolls. If you have evidence of abuse, please email us so we can take a look; we ban accounts that do that, regardless of which nations or opinions are at issue.

But please don't post insinuations without basis. By 'basis' I mean specific links or data. Simply having an opposing view is not enough; it's too subject to how one feels. The site guidelines mention this, so it would be a good idea to (re-)read them: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

> Is there a pattern of downvotes whenver there isa negative story about China

There isn't such a pattern than I'm aware of. What you're probably seeing is users flagging stories that they feel are off-topic for HN, presumably because they lead to nationalistic flamewars.


The HN moderating skew on anything regarding China is palpable. Anecdotal, but I’ve witnessed it every single time I participated (both ways). And I systematically see posts buried which otherwise would not have been.

It’s becoming a nuisance, which is fine. But I fear what will happen if the trend continues. It may very well end up suffocating thoughtful discussion about China and their policies. Which, ironically, would make it all the more important to have those :)

I find myself wondering if it’s astroturfing or blind nationalism.

(I agree the comment about his wife is in poor taste, by the way :/ I would support an amendment to your post, but I guess that’s your call.)


> And I systematically see posts buried which otherwise would not have been.

I'm skeptical that mods are deliberating burying such posts. What can happen is

1 - it gets flagged then vouched, but still has a huge karma hit. This happened to all the Damore discussions.

2 - it has a much greater ratio of comments to upvotes. This is taken as a marker of bickering and leads to penalization


I see the confusion, my apologies; I was referring to moderation of comments by users. This is very susceptible to astroturfing and manipulation, as discussed elsewhere in this thread.


I think the last remark about Xi Jinping's wife was uncalled for (I'm Taiwanese American).


[flagged]


>his stupid uneducated bimbo of a wife

that is most definitely not a fact, it is an opinion, namely your opinion. It's also a pointless and needlessly inflammatory insult that engenders no productive discussion. Would you say the same about the first lady of the US?


It might be a fact (I don't know), but certainly it detracts from your point. I think you should edit out the stuff about her.


It is the exact type of ad-hominem, inflammatory, and irrelevant distraction that this article is pointing out.


I agree with a sibling comment, you put together a good observation about how the posts get down voted and eventually getting out of the first page every time, but I think you should edit the last comment about his Xi Jinping's Wife.


I agree as well. Maybe she's uneducated and unintelligent, I don't know anything about her, but there are more polite ways of saying that and it distracts from the overall point.


On HN it's not unique to China. Anything negative about India is downvoted into oblivion. You can almost time it to the rising of the sun in India Standard Time.

I'm not saying that it's being orchestrated by the Indian government, but it does happen.


This is the distraction the linked study was talking about. I'm not sure if it happens about articles related to India, but since we are on the topic about China's article getting down-voted (anecdotally I have seen multiple times), I think we should focus on that atm.


Agreed. Not trying to divert attention from the topic at hand (like the people cited in the Harvard study do).


How many Indian people live in India and in the global diaspora?

How many Chinese people live in China?

How many Americans are there?

I have not counted them all myself, however this discussion has not talked the numbers and there are a fair few Chinese and Indian people and not so many American people, therefore some presence online is to be expected by people that don't go along with what Washington says.

Regarding whether it is bots or not, the guys in the China office where I work sometimes send out company wide emails that do not look like they have been written by humans. Particularly salient are the 'employee of the month' nominations that should be sent to HR and not 'cc all'. These emails definitely look like they could be written by an auto-translating bot. Reflected in these emails are different values and different ways of praising people that cause us in the UK to chuckle a bit.


> Whenver there is any negative story about china, the downvotes happen immediately and "defends of the honor of china" pop up magically throwing dirt everywhere.

Maybe a little, but the main thing I see in stories like that is dozens of comments that that derail the comments into a "the US is just as bad!" flame-war, and kill discussion of the negative story.

It's really effective, because Western users are often ignorant of China and/or indifferent to it, but will happily jump into a flame-war about Western countries when presented with the bait.


Or it’s a false flag operation: create flame wars and toxify certain subjects.


This proves the point. I added the "bimbo of a wife" comment as an example. If you look on web forums, there are unmitigated attacks of similar calibre towards Tsai (President of Taiwan) calling her a "old whore", "old maid", "japanese collaborator", and such.

The first time you see such nonsense like the "bimbo" reference, you call it out. However, after you see it 50 times, you just ignore it. For you, you ignore it, but since nobody calls it out, it is gradually asserted as fact. This is the same trend online by the organized trolls whereby nobody even bothers to call them out when they pretend Taiwan is part of China; that the South China Sea belongs to China; and that Xi Jinping is the new Kim Jong Il.

The first time you see something like this attack, you call it out. By the time you see it 200 times from 20 different people, you'll be indifferent.

I should write a better 50c algorithm that spews Peng is a stupid bimbo until everyone on the internet accepts it.

Note. I don't think she is a bimbo, but the point stands none the less


It doesn't "stand", because you're not welcome to haul that kind of trash into Hacker News just because people sling it elsewhere.


We should definitely be wary of attempts by the Chinese government to distract from meaningful discussion. It’s worth remembering that leftist organizations in the US and around the world during the Cold War were sometimes funded by the Soviet Union.

At the same time, I am reminded of how organizations that in hindsight we know were definitely not funded by the Soviet Union were accused of exactly that during the 50s and 60s. For example, we now know that at one point the KGB and the FBI were concurrently running smear campaigns against MLK.

In that light, I’m skeptical of Lionsion’s motives in posting this. Yesterday he was rightfully called out by some including me for writing of Chinese internment camps in Xinjiang that

> These camps appear to be the result of high-level Chinese government policy that explicitly targets this ethic group. There are no contemporary parallels in the US. If you think there are, do you think Obama was in on it? The US situation is unfortunate, but it's more the result of poverty and lower-level racism, not a policy to imprison blacks.

The whataboutism in his last statement of course goes against the consensus of US academics studying criminal justice issues, the consensus of criminal justice advocates, as well as what (again, thanks to the passage of time) we now know about the deliberate decisions of politicians leading up to the War on Drugs:

https://www.aclu.org/other/race-war-drugs https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-rich...

I think Hacker News should place where we can have a civil discussions about issues. Thanks to the wonders of technology, we are able to have multiple (not just one!) threads and thus to discuss multiple topics. And as I have said previously, most of us can both walk and chew gum at the same time; if someone is unable to even read comments discussing US education reform on an article by an American looking at the Swedish education system, for example, without being “distracted,” I think that’s more of an issue for the easily-distracted person than for the discussants.

But the strange trend of accusing everyone who would like to discuss the relevance of an issue to the US of being funded by the Chinese government is as intellectually demeaning as it should be rhetorically suspect.

I’d be happy to prove that I’m an American citizen not funded by the Chinese or any other government, but I think that might be relatively hard to prove in a fair and respectful way over the Internet. On the other hand, it is much easier to look at someone’s public comment history and to see the unsettling trends there.

More generally, I’m getting tired of having to battle this recent uptick in China scaremongering on what used to be a much more reasonable forum. Lionsion’s account is very new, and I wonder if they are part of the recent influx of new users who have arrived with their own bad habits. Seriously, check the account creation date for users who post things that seem to be weird pro-China or anti-China propaganda. They seem to mostly have been made around 2016.


You've been getting deep into nationalistic flamewars. You've also repeatedly been uncivil. We ban accounts that do these things, regardless of which nation (or ideology or opinion) you're for or against. It needs to stop, so please stop.

You've been spreading the toxin you're deploring, which is generally how it spreads on HN. That's not ok, regardless of how wrong someone else may be. If you think you see abuse, you're welcome to email us about it so we can take a look and take action if we find it. But you're not welcome to bring the site down in flames in your own right.


Perhaps ones karma score should be displayed with the username on post flagged as political.


I think it'd be neat if we could also separate karma out by the type of post, somehow. For example, although my account is relatively old, most of my karma is just from a series of comments about the Uber autonomous car crash. I'm not sure that my karma accurately reflects that I'm primarily a lurker.


You're literally trying to carry the same derail into a new thread where it's even less on-topic?

Here, I made a new post for you for your derail: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17105121. Please take it there.


Would you like to respond to my points, or are you going to use the same tactic you did last time and completely ignore what others write in order to push your own agenda?

Why is it that your account is only 67 days old and >75% of your comments are about China? Do you even comment on normal Hacker News topics that aren't related to politics?


> Would you like to respond to my points

No. Please take your points to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17105121.

> in order to push your own agenda?

My agenda is to stay at least vaguely on-topic.

> Why is it that your account only 67 days old yet >75% of your comments are about China? Do you even comment on normal Hacker News topics that aren't related to politics?

Because you didn't look past two days of comments? Most of my comments over the past two days have been in this article and the other about Xinjiang, which are both about China. But you're right, I have an interest in it.

Anyway, this thread with you is clearly off-topic, so I'm going to stop it. If have further questions for me, you can study my other comments or figure out a way to privately message me.


[flagged]


> Also I find it quite telling that Lionsion still refuses to respond to any of my points.

Ok, I'll bite. Here's my response:

You need to go outside and take a walk, because your "points" have been off topic, literally paranoid, and bizarrely personal. You're accusing me of being an "agent provocateur" and either a Chinese or Russian troll. That's crazy talk and utter nonsense.

Ignoring you isn't "telling," it's frustration and a lack of better options.

The truth is I'm a guy who was frustrated by a thread yesterday that was totally ruined by people who derailed it, perhaps like the 50 Cent Party would. Just to make it super clear: I don't think it was disrupted by the actual 50 Cent Party, but by people who maybe should consider learning to not act like it.

Edit: I apologize to everyone who reads this thread (or the dead comments below). In situations like this, the correct action is to ignore someone like my interlocutor, but that's difficult when he makes personal attacks. I should have held firm despite them.


[flagged]


> What sort of bizarre hedging is saying that people are just acting "perhaps like" paid Chinese trolls?

You need to re-read my comment, especially the sentence after the one you partially quoted. What I was getting at was that someone who inadvertently behaves like a propagandist should re-evaluate their behavior and modify it, because it's destructive (if it wasn't destructive, why would the propagandist do it?). For instance, someone pushing hyper-partisan memes on Facebook should stop because Russians agents literally do that same thing as a disruption tactic.

> but I am not exaggerating when I say that I think putting these things on the record is important for everyone.

I have nothing to hide: https://web.archive.org/web/20180518222349/https://news.ycom...

Anyway, you are not acting like a stable, sensible person. You're getting too worked up. Please, take a break. Do something relaxing or fun. This is not a productive derail that anyone else would benefit from.


We've banned this account for repeatedly breaking the site guidelines. Nationalistic flamewar and personal attacks are not allowed here. Please don't create accounts to do this with.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

In case anyone is wondering: no, this is not because of your views. I don't know what they are and it doesn't matter, just as a fireman doesn't care what color a fire is.


> You need to re-read my comment, especially the sentence after the one you partially quoted.

You're not fooling anyone when you say that you're not accusing people of being propagandists, but rather that they're just "perhaps like" them.

> Anyway, you are not acting like a stable, sensible person. You're getting too worked up.

Says the guy whose two month old account has 75% of its comments about one topic, but nice try. I also wonder if you are subconsciously channeling some tactics from the past:

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

EDIT: And of course, recalling Cato, I will end by nothing that you still have not responded to anything I've said but rather have devolved to calling people who disagree with you crazy. Gee, it's almost like you're just trying to divide people instead of actually trying to have a good faith discussion.


[flagged]


You should actually read the paper. An IP user making edits to a controversial Wikipedia page is nothing like what this paper is talking about. To summarize:

1. The Chinese government has a massive, coordinated effort to post on social media to serve their propaganda goals.

2. That effort attempts to distract from things they don't want people to consider, rather than just loudly pushing the party line.


The methods are interesting. It is worth noting however that it's not the any gov't wouldn't want to do this, or even doesn't.


This is a very typical response in a thread about China.

Please stop comparing it with other nations. China's government and its modus operandi is a completely different ball game. It is not even the same sport.

It only detracts from the discussion. If you would like to discuss US topics, please open a new thread and we are happy to have a conversation.


but if you are criticizing something while doing the same thing, it's just hypocrisy.


I beg your pardon?


> I have seen the US government doing this a lot.

I find it funny that an article mentioning "...the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject..." contains a comment that does exactly that.


[flagged]


We are talking about A. But forget about A, look at B!!!

It distracts from the core thread topic.


I'm criticizing A while doing A. You shouldn't mention I'm doing A!


Why is this downvoted? All governments do propaganda, this is a well known fact.

One particular interesting thing about this particular case is the scale and the focus, but do we really think other governments don't try? Even companies astroturf.


Isn't the comment itself a distraction, just like the ones in the main post? :)


No, it isn't a distraction, it's actually related to the topic. A distraction along the lines of the article would be flagging this article and upvoting others.

However, upvoting this and flagging comments pointing out hypocrisy can also be construed as propaganda. Seeing that across the comment section is discouraging.


> All governments do propaganda, this is a well known fact....Even companies astroturf.

This paper isn't about that kind of propaganda, where a particular narrative gets pushed. It's about an insidious kind of propaganda where an unrelated or semi-related narrative is pushed to distract from some topic.

> Why is this downvoted?

Probably because it can be interpreted as a similar kind of propaganda to the kind the article describes (e.g. lets get everyone riled up about Israel such that they forget about China). I can see the loose topic-similarity aiding such a goal.


How do you know it is not Russia? Maybe Russia is manipulating China and USA at the same time!


American govt fabricates wars for social distraction, China needs to step their game up!


So does the US with it's media machine.


Nobody is saying it doesn't, but the two things are entirely independent from each other. It's not a competition between countries, it's a question of how people of earth can get the best lives for themselves.


I'm inclined not to trust an article that uses propaganda-rhetoric like 'regime'.


Right, so you're ignoring peer-reviewed article with hard data, analysis and conclusions in the favor of propaganda-rhetoric use of the word "regime". You're doing a disservice to yourself.


Does anyone think this does not happen in other countries? Maybe even in your own country (but not ours, obviously)? And not just by governments, but by political parties, foreign entities, corporations, lobbying groups, interest groups, etc, any entity with an interest in distracting, muddying, defining a narrative, or swaying opinion?

And once you consider that, consider the numerous potential reasons why social media companies appear to do nothing about the huge numbers of obvious bots, astroturfers, sockpuppets, trollfarms, etc on their services.

Interesting times we live in!


Hungary doesn't need it. The government simply mangled any opposition media.


Yes it happens all the times from the newspapers. They select topics to cover or not (first biais) then cover it the want they want to fit their narratives (second level biais). In France, one of the most renowned newspaper (Le Monde) have a dedicated team (Les Décodeurs) to make posts about every politically sensitive topics. The official raison d'être of the team is to fight fake news, but the way they wrote is so fake-newish it becomes like an art performance.




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