Circumventing China’s so-called “Great Firewall” usually end up with violators getting penalized with a fine or jail time, but recent incidents have revealed that the government censors can reportedly also turn a blind eye when they choose.
Instead of condemnation, Chinese netizens using virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the “Great Firewall” and access the banned Western social media sites are getting praise from the state media, Reuters reports.
Nationalists have been busy these past few weeks accessing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube posting patriotic messages or support for Hong Kong’s police as the protests in Hong Kong continue.
It was also found that many state media outlets have been utilizing these Western social media sites themselves to launch paid propaganda campaigns.
State broadcaster CCTV recently praised two online groups on primetime TV for their campaigns spreading patriotic messages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Female idol followers Fanquan Girls, who often mobilize online campaigns in support of their favorite celebrities, were among those praised for expressing support for the Hong Kong police.
Meanwhile, Diba, a nationalist online community that trolls people who may have offended China, gets kudos for flooding social media pages with patriotic comments and memes that sometimes get abusive.
“These days, from Fanquan girls to Diba netizens to overseas students, all forces that love China and love Hong Kong are coming together as a strong positive energy, taking care of Hong Kong and fervently supporting Hong Kong,” an anchor for the program “Xinwen Lianbo” said.
Weibo users applauded the segment which, with the use of a hashtag, became a top-trending topic after the broadcast.
“I feel so honored! Brother Ah Zhong (China), rest assured, fangirls will always be with you!” a comment that gathered over 57,000 likes read.
“The fan clubs are one family in front of the country,” another one chimed in.
China’s state media have been known to use Twitter and Facebook for campaigns in the past despite being banned in their own country.
Every day I go out and see stuff with my own eyes, and then I go to report it on Twitter and see promoted tweets saying the opposite of what I saw. Twitter is taking money from Chinese propaganda outfits and running these promoted tweets against the top Hong Kong protest hashtags pic.twitter.com/6Wb0Km6GOb
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 17, 2019
However, as the events in Hong Kong continue to catch the world’s attention, netizens have observed an increase in promoted tweets by outlets like Xinhua News.
I just came home from a completely peaceful march where possibly a million Hong Kong residents came out, with no police in sight, to call for basic democratic rights. What greets me is straight up lies from Xinhua about “bands of thugs”, courtesy of Twitter advertising. pic.twitter.com/pUTsnqZ5oN
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 18, 2019
In its posts, the state-run media has been exerting efforts to elevate pro-China demonstrations and depict the Hong Kong protesters as violent rioters.
As the New York Times reported, it appears to be an attempt to “undermine sympathy” for the activists. It was later found that many of Xinhua’s promoted tweets have been removed for containing content that violated Twitter’s ad policies.
Twitter’s Ad Transparency Center also revealed that state media outlets such as Global Times and China Focus have also been paying for promoted tweets in relation to the Hong Kong protests.
Both Facebook and Twitter made an announcement on Monday about their discovery of coordinated operations originating from China that promote misinformation about the protests.
“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” Twitter said in a blog post.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher wrote in a post:
“We conducted an internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region and identified this activity. As with all of these takedowns, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”
Featured Image via YouTube / BBC Newsnight