The Chinese government is attempting to cover up its genocide in Xinjiang by weaponizing social media.
For six years, reports of the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region have broken through the country’s censorship. Photos, data, and narratives of incredible human suffering have finally persuaded much of the world to finally acknowledge these atrocities and begin to take steps to address them.
But the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is working overtime to bury the cultural genocide it is enacting against the Uyghur people with a landslide of disinformation “to manipulate and dominate global discourse on Xinjiang and to discredit independent sources,” the State Department’s Global Engagement Center warned in a report issued Wednesday.
The center, which was established in 2016 with the central mission of exposing and countering foreign state disinformation efforts, details the methods behind this campaign “to drown out and marginalize narratives that are critical of the PRC’s repression of Uyghurs, and to harass those critical of the PRC.”
Here’s the big takeaway: Beijing is doing its damnedest to hijack every information outlet to deny crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and bolster positive portrayals of Beijing’s role in the region.
As The New York Times and ProPublica revealed in 2021, Beijing has perfected its propaganda recipe. It can pump out hundreds of seemingly authentic testimonial videos on YouTube and Twitter that aim to demonstrate that Uyghurs are “very free” without obvious signs these videos are indeed created by Chinese government propagandists, thereby weaponizing social media platforms.
“Western platforms like Twitter and YouTube are banned in China out of fear they might be used to spread political messaging — which is exactly how Chinese officials are using these platforms in the rest of the world,” The New York Times and ProPublica article states.
Since 2021, the Global Engagement Center contends that the PRC has also used advanced intelligence-generated content to create fake profiles that make it even more difficult to determine that the content is inauthentic. Additionally, the PRC has led a transnational troll campaign against those who have criticized the PRC, especially targeting members of the Chinese diaspora communities. These campaigns “frequently evolve into threats of death, rape, or assault; malicious cyber-attacks; and cyberbullying or harassment through doxing,” the report states.
As Beijing attempts to shut down denunciations of its actions in Xinjiang, the Chinese government is also attempting to drown them out with “wolf warriors,” members of the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs who sometimes aggressively defend the PRC on social media. And, alarmingly, the Chinese government is turning its attention to a younger audience and pushing its messaging through social media influencers around the world, the State Department report states.
Beijing is determined to take control of the global narrative and rewrite it in its favor, extending its authority far beyond the country’s borders. And there are those who are swayed by its messaging.
On Thursday, United Nations (U.N.) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced that she is “trying very hard” to release a report on the Chinese government’s human rights violations in the Xinjiang region before she leaves office next week. Bachelet’s six-day visit to China in May represented the first trip by a UN high commissioner for Human Rights to the country in 17 years, but it was largely panned by human rights groups for failing to fully condemn Beijing’s human rights violations.
It stands to be determined whether Bachelet’s report will examine the full extent of the PRC’s brutality in Xinjiang, but repeated delays on its publication do not bode well. It is worth noting, however, that the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery recently put out a report of its own, which states that it is “reasonable to conclude” forced labor is taking place in Xinjiang that in “some instances may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity.”
The business world, too, is experiencing the Chinese government’s leash-tightening when it comes to its political agenda. As Reuters reported Wednesday, a survey of more than 100 companies doing business in China by Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies and the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie showed that Beijing is “broadening the ‘red lines’ for issues to which it is allergic.”
In the face of Beijing’s attempts to conceal its crimes, it is more critical than ever to stringently enforce the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFPLA). Beijing would like nothing better than to have the West endorse that all of its products as manufactured under humane labor conditions, but the prevalence of forced labor in its industries is undeniable.