Friday, January 28, 2022

Beijing Outsources Its Propaganda to YouTube Influencers

The instances of Chinese entities creating numerous fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook to spread pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rhetoric and getting banned eventually have made headlines. Now, it seems that Beijing is trying other means to spread pro-CCP propaganda across the globe. It uses a handful of popular YouTube influencers who have sizable fan followings. 

The YouTube clips of Lee and Oli Barrett have been analyzed, and it is evident that these are new means of spreading pro-Chinese propaganda- albeit in a roundabout way. The son and father duo depicts a rosy portrait of life in China. However, they also criticized the critics of the CCP in the clips.

Their videos have a homespun and casual feel, but in these clips, they inject doses of pro-CCP views and slam the U.S. from time to time. Government organizers and Chinese media outlets have possibly doctored the videos, say the analysts. 

According to the latest revelations, YouTube influencers promoting the CCP ideologies and lashing out at the Western view of the country receive several favors from the Chinese authorities. As a result, their videos and clips have been widely shared on social media channels.

Clips of YouTube influencers Lee and Oli Barrett have been analyzed, and it is evident that these are new means of spreading pro-Chinese propaganda, albeit in a roundabout way.
The YouTube clips of Lee and Oli Barrett have been analyzed, and it is evident that these are new means of spreading pro-Chinese propaganda, albeit in a roundabout way. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

They have millions of subscribers to their channels faster than anyone can imagine with the help of Chinese authorities. Moreover, the Chinese media outlets and sources usually sponsor their trips to Chinese regions.

This is a new tactic deployed by the CCP to counter the prevalent perception of China. Sympathetic foreign voices may work on the skeptics better than news spread by Chinese media outlets. This also gives China an indirect way to use hugely popular platforms like Twitter and YouTube, officially banned by the CCP. 

YouTube influencers funded by Chinese entities

It is hard to say if the YouTube influencers spreading pro-Chinese views online are fully aware of the truth or not. One of these YouTube influencers is Raz Galor. He shared a video shot in Xinjiang to counter theories of forced labor. His videos depict the fields and natural settings. However, the internal government documents, journalists’ visits, and first-hand testimonials are nowhere. His video company, YChina, is funded by the China Development Bank. 

Some YouTube influencers agree they have received financial support from Chinese state entities, but they say it does not make them pro-CCP mouthpieces. For example, Kirk Apesland, a Canadian origin creator in China, refutes the allegations of repression in Xinjiang. He shares personal experiences on his channel Gweilo 60 to show things are every day and the government does not play a fascist role in China.

He says in a video: “China’s locking up people in re-education camps. They’re trying to educate these people to have jobs and skills and stuff into the future. It’s a big difference from Guantanamo Bay, where you get locked up.” However, he admitted he gets paid by the city and provincial authorities. A similar acknowledgment comes from Lee Barrett.

Raz Galor. He shared a video shot in Xinjiang to counter theories of forced labor. His videos depict the fields and natural settings. (Image: via YouTube)

Therefore, digital content creators get twin benefits when creating and sharing pro-CCP content online. First, their trips and amenities are sponsored by Chinese authorities, and they get substantial online traffic, which benefits their careers.

If videos of the YouTube influencers are analyzed well, the functioning of hidden machinery becomes evident. Mr. Galor uploaded his video on Xinjiang’s cotton farms just after Nike and H&M expressed their woes about allegations of forced labor. That video was soon reposted by China’s embassy with Italian subtitles on Facebook. Soon, his clips were shared on Twitter and Facebook by accounts with dubious credentials. Many of these accounts lack any original post. This hints at a coordinated background operation.

Many of these pro-Chinese online YouTube influencers do not disclose their ties with Chinese authorities and the fact that they are paid for making such videos.

Li Jingjing shares her views on how the West is trying to thwart China’s growth, without mentioning she is involved with the China Global Television Network. The China Traveller, which is the channel of Stuart Wiggin, does not show his links with People’s Daily.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.
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