YouTube pulls fake China accounts
China’s PR offensive undermined as Google follows Twitter in deleting bogus Western claque
Following Free Tibet’s exposé in September of fake YouTube accounts promoting Chinese propaganda, YouTube has now deleted all but one of more than fifty suspect accounts that the campaign group reported to them (1). The deletion of the accounts follows Twitter’s deletion of similar accounts following a Free Tibet campaign in July (2).
A number of the deleted YouTube accounts posted videos portraying Tibet as a happy Chinese province. Most activity, however, was dedicated to supporting a YouTube channel, Review China, which produces content intended to reassure foreign observers of China’s general domestic progress, good intentions and neighbourliness (3).
The accounts used images, primarily of Caucasians, stolen from other online sources and Anglo-Saxon names produced by combining two first names, the same format used for the Twitter accounts. The accounts shared, or posted positive comments on, Review China videos. A small number of Review China videos have also been deleted (4).
Free Tibet submitted a detailed dossier to YouTube in September, demanding immediate action (5). In a response from Google today, the company thanked Free Tibet for drawing their attention to the accounts but made no comment on Review China itself (6) – Free Tibet will follow this question up with Google.
Free Tibet campaign manager Alistair Currie said:
“China’s cack-handed attempts to use Western social media to spread its message may appear too obvious to pose a threat but they form part of a current charm offensive which must be taken seriously. In recent months we have seen a new, coordinated effort to sell the message to external audiences that Tibet is full of contented people benefiting from the Chinese government’s financial largesse and content that China respects and preserves their culture.
“We’re grateful to YouTube for pulling the accounts but more needs to be done by social media companies to prevent the abuse of their products in this way. China’s emphasis on the manipulation of Western public opinion is a sign of how important that public opinion is. The reality that China is an occupying power, brutally repressing Tibetan resistance and guilty of grave human rights abuses in Tibet must never be allowed to be obscured by its PR.”
China’s recent public relations exercises include bringing Western politicians to a conference in Lhasa and inviting Western media on carefully-controlled visits to Tibet (7).
Review China also has a Twitter account with 15,000 followers, many of whom are transparently fake and appear to be generated by robots (8). Free Tibet has notified Twitter of the accounts. In addition to the use of fake social media accounts targeting Western audiences, bogus Chinese-language Twitter accounts have recently been used to target dissident Chinese writer Morang Xeceun (9) and to interfere with pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong (10).
For further information, images and comment, contact Free Tibet press and media manager Alistair Currie
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605
M: +4 (0)780 165 4011
Notes for editors
(1) Dossier containing examples available at www.freetibet.org/files/YouTubedossierSeptember2014.pdf. Selected screen grabs available on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157647766431441 and from Free Tibet.
(2) For more information on Twitter, see New York Times 21 July 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/world/asia/trending-attractive-people-sharing-upbeat-news-about-tibet-.html?_r=2 and Free Tibet press release 21 July 2014 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/china%E2%80%99s-web-fake-western-twitter-users-attacks-dalai-lama-and-spreads-tibet-propaganda
(3) Review China YouTube site https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfWVME4-kfIuyFJxa8rdZsw The source of Review China is not clear but its high quality videos, access to foreign ambassadors and publication in Chinese state media (http://english.people.com.cn/n/2014/0918/c90883-8784575.html) indicate a Chinese government origin.
(4) For example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjJwiLTnL_E
(5) See dossier www.freetibet.org/files/YouTubedossierSeptember2014.pdf; letter to YouTube available from Free Tibet
(6) Email available from Free Tibet
(7) See RTE news report from Tibet, 21 October 2014 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRuJj6cuxrw and BBC report on Lhasa conference http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-china-blog-28804216
(8) Review China Twitter account https://twitter.com/ChinaReview2014
(9) New York Times, 8 September 2014 http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/murong-xuecun-says-he-is-target-of-twitter-smear-campaign/?_php=true&_type=blogs&partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesworld&_r=0
(10) Foreign Policy 16 September 2014 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/16/chinas_social_media_underground_twitter