What We’re Learning About China’s Use of Social Media for Propaganda

A new analysis of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) presence on social media raises important questions about how disinformation and propaganda are currently being spread online. The study, published by the Oxford Internet Institute, documents part of the CCP’s social media strategy. The researchers analyzed “every tweet and Facebook post produced by PRC [People’s Republic of China] diplomats and ten of the largest state-controlled media outlets between June 2020 and February 2021.” 

The study’s key finding is that the CCP’s diplomats and state-controlled media organs are increasingly prolific on Twitter and Facebook—two platforms that are prohibited inside China itself. 

Over the course of a nine-month period, the CCP’s “diplomats tweeted 201,382 times, averaging 778 times a day.” The CCP diplomats’ tweets “were liked nearly seven million times, commented on one million times, and retweeted 1.3 million times.” The Chinese diplomats “also produced 34,041 posts over this period” on Facebook. Meanwhile, the CCP’s “media outlets managed 176 accounts on Twitter and Facebook,” posting 700,000 times, with 355 million likes, and “over 27 million comments and re-shares in the study period.”

That sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but it is difficult to put these figures into perspective. To do so, we’d have to perform a comparable study of U.S. diplomatic Twitter and Facebook pages, or of the social media presence for other countries, to see how the CCP’s activity compares. Such benchmarks aren’t readily available.

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