Spamouflage: Why China’s ‘surprisingly effective’ propaganda resonates abroad


Chinese state-aligned actors are using AI-generated deepfakes in first-of-their-kind propaganda videos, according to a report from U.S.-based research firm Graphika.

The fake anchors — for a fictitious news outlet called Wolf News — were created by artificial intelligence software and appeared in footage on social media that seemed to promote the interests of the Chinese Communist Party, VOA reports.

Spamouflage, a state-aligned influence operation, has been using AI-generated fictitious people to promote China’s global role and spreading disinformation since late 2022, said the report, ‘Deepfake It Till You Make It’.

Many are skeptical of the appeal of authoritarian political systems, but global audiences will embrace such models when they believe that autocracies can meet governance challenges better than democracies, says a new study from political scientists at Harvard, Yale and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

The sinologist David Shambaugh predicted that “despite [China’s] extraordinary economic rise over the last several decades, so long as its political system denies, rather than enables, free human development, its media efforts will face an uphill battle.” But the “striking” results of new research shows that exposure to China’s state-sponsored media triples the proportion of respondents who view its authoritarian model as superior to the American system from 16 percent to 54 percent.

The researchers conducted a randomized experiment in 19 countries across 6 continents exposing a global audience to real messages from the Chinese and U.S. governments’ external media arms. “Our findings show how autocracies build global support by selling growth and competence, with important implications for democratic resilience,” they conclude, adding that that exposure to Chinese messages strengthens perceptions that the CCP delivers growth, stability, and competent leadership.

According to estimates, President Xi Jinping gives his propagandists $7bn-10bn per year to “tell China’s story well”. A big part of this effort is China Global Television Network (CGTN), the state media company behind the videos used in the study, The Economist adds:

The study showed that the CGTN videos were particularly persuasive among audiences in Africa and South America—two places where China’s state-media efforts are being ramped up. According to annual surveys by YouGov, a British pollster, and the University of Cambridge, there is increasing support for China in countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Mexico. The opposite is true in Britain, France, Germany and America, where it is easy to dismiss Chinese propaganda.

Another analysis of Chinese propaganda indicates an increasing field of propaganda cooperation between China and Russia, reports suggest. Beijing is using Russia’s war against Ukraine to deliver anti-American messages. China’s propaganda promotes a vision of an aggressive West that has led to the outbreak of war with its policies. It also scares viewers with a vision of a global conflict. These actions are taken to weaken the West.

China’s Ministry of Human Resources has posted its 2023 call for the hiring of positions within the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department and its subsidiary departments, the China Media Project adds. This would include branches like the Overseas Promotion Office (对外推广局), the International Communications Office (国际传播局), and the Overseas News Office (对外新闻局). It would also include related entities masquerading as private enterprises and driving external propaganda internationally — the likes of the China International Communications Group (对外称中国国际传播集团), or CICG, and the China International Communication Center (五洲传播中心), or CICC.

Join @ASCOA for an in-person meeting with Dr. #JulioGuzmán, fellow at the @NEDemocracy‘s @ThinkDemocracy and founder of the Peruvian centrist political party #PartidoMorado, for a conversation on #China‘s growing influence in the Americas.

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