- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Stanford Internet Observatory researchers published a new report Monday saying China has an “extensive influence apparatus” that utilizes broadcast, print, and social media to change public opinion on coronavirus.

The Stanford researchers’ report said that China has sharpened its overt and covert tools, including its use of content farms, brigades of internet commenters, and fabricated social media accounts in new efforts to sway unwitting audiences on Facebook and Twitter.

“China’s influence strategy on COVID-19 has involved a full spectrum of overt and covert tactics, which has included domestic censorship, English-language state media Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts to influence conversations on Western social media platforms,” wrote the Stanford Internet Observatory researchers.

“English-language state media Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts, as well as Chinese diplomats and embassies, took part in an overt messaging effort to amplify the [Chinese Communist Party’s] preferred narratives on COVID-19. Covert state-sponsored activity leveraging fake Twitter accounts paralleled these efforts, praising the CCP’s pandemic response and criticizing the responses of other actors, such as the United States, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.”

The Stanford researchers said some of China’s influence operations have appeared clumsy, especially as compared to their Russian counterparts.

“Chinese operators do not appear to have done the psychological or ethnographic research required to create convincing accounts on Western platforms,” the researchers wrote. “They additionally appear relatively unconcerned about getting no engagement. This is a common occurrence in [People’s Republic of China] campaign-style mobilization: demonstrate to superiors total commitment by generating high levels of activity (in this case, hitting targets for post counts), while actual efficacy or impact may be secondary.”

Other Chinese covert influence efforts have proven somewhat more effective, including at Stanford. On Monday, the Justice Department charged a visiting Stanford researcher with visa fraud because of her allegedly concealing her membership in the Chinese military.

Song Chen, the charged 38-year-old Chinese national, had represented herself as a neurologist who planned to do research on brain disease at Stanford in her 2018 visa application, according to the Justice Department. If convicted, federal prosecutors said Ms. Chen faces up to 10 years in prison.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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