Cotton the Act: Large-Scale Network of CCP-aligned Facebook Accounts Deny Mass Atrocity in China's Xinjiang Province
Spamouflage Survives Part 3/6
Miburo has spent the last 11 months observing cross-platform propaganda campaigns promoting the Chinese government from an actor known as Spamouflage. In our first post on this actor, we outlined the general strategies and behaviors used by Spamouflage to evade detection on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Though Spamouflage has been caught carrying out disinformation aligned with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at least four times in the past two years,in 2021 it expanded its messaging to spread propaganda denying human rights atrocities in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is a region in the Northwest of China where the Chinese government has perpetrated extremely grave human rights abuses for over a decade targeting the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority. The CCP has subjected the Uyghurs to the world’s most invasive digital and physical surveillance,forced labor,hacking campaigns, forcible assimilation, and mass detention in concentration camps. Oftentimes, Uyghurs have simply disappeared altogether. In recent years, proof of mass atrocities has accumulated, including photographic evidence of concentration camps and the leak of numerous internal government documents encouraging Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials to “round up all those who should be” and to show “absolutely no mercy” to Uyghur detainees. In the eyes of several governments and human rights organizations worldwide, these abuses formally meet the definition of genocide.The aim of Chinese disinformation campaigns on Xinjiang is to allege that no human rights abuses are taking place, a position that is demonstrably false.
While other news sources have documented Chinese government disinformation campaigns regarding human rights abuses in Xinjiang, this is the first time we have seen a dedicated messaging effort on the topic from Spamouflage.
Narratives observed in Spamouflage’s Xinjiang-related content include:
Accusations of genocide by Western governments are hypocritical - Accounts often engage in whataboutism, following the L. Ron Hubbard tack of “never defend, always attack”. Spamouflage accounts frequently claim that Western human rights values are a sham, taking a common narrative from Russian disinformation and propaganda campaigns.
There is no forced labor in Xinjiang - Messaging denying forced labor in Xinjiang often emphasizes the automation involved in picking cotton, one of Xinjiang’s main exports, in the region. Xinjiang provides nearly 20 percent of the world’s cotton supply.
Feel-good,“cheerleading” propaganda - This messaging highlights positive aspects of Xinjiang, such as its beautiful landscapes, wind turbines, or food. The subtext of these posts is that bad things can’t happen in such a beautiful place, and Uyghurs lead normal, happy, everyday lives in Xinjiang. Scholars have previously noted that domestic propaganda—from volunteer and paid online commenters in China—tends to fall into this category, avoiding acrimony and emphasizing the good that the Party has done at home.
Posting videos of foreign influencers who amplify the Party’s arguments - Spamouflage also amplified foreign YouTube influencers whose videos deny genocide and forced labor in the region. Many of these influencers receive perks for publishing this content, including paid features in Chinese state media, free travel, promotion from government offices and officials, and money. Some have openly admitted this fact.
#USA Regarding so-called forced labor and genocide existing in Xinjiang, this is far and away the lie of the century. On the basis of this lie, the U.S. abuses the [sanctioned] Entity Lists as a means to attack Xinjiang’s solar industry and others. This not only violates international trade norms and the principles of market economics, it also breaks global industrial supply chains.
#America For a while now, anti-China forces within the U.S. have resorted to blowing up issues in Xinjiang, sparing no expense, and having no shame sowing lies about “forced labor”, “mass incarceration”, “genocide”. Taunting China with sanctions, Western media and multinational companies are actively supporting anti-Chinese forces, parroting and amplifying false reports and statements. They’ve nakedly revealed their plot to curb
[Photo text] A quote from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Hua Chunying denying human rights abuses and family separations in Xinjiang.
#Cotton Producing good cotton isn’t a crime. China’s good cotton won’t be smeared by the United States.
[Photo text] America is pulling the strings again.
Biden attacks China’s Xinjiang policy. China responds that so-called human rights are a naked political ploy, his real motive is to destabilize Xinjiang and obstruct Xinjiang’s development. America should reflect deeply on its own human rights misdeeds, take care of its own issues, and stop using human rights as a pretense to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs and harm their interests.
The U.S. is leading the West in using lies and human rights as a pretense to underhandedly suppress the development of Xinjiang’s industries, on everything from cotton and solar power to industrial work. What’s actually being harmed are the Xinjiang people’s right to survive, their right to progress. These actions have laid bare that the real goal of the U.S. is to force unemployment (on the Xinjiang people), bring about poverty, cause social upheaval in Xinjiang, and stop China’s development.
Western Countries like Canada, #America, and England are proclaiming themselves the ultimate judge on human rights, and yet don’t see their own grave human rights problems. Still, they’re creating a #HumanRightsConspiracy, trying in vain to get into Xinjiang to investigate! China advises these countries to do some deep self-reflection and take appropriate steps to solve their own serious human rights problems. These concrete, good actions would truly drive progress in helping international human rights.
Figures show that since December , U.S. embassies have collectively made announcements smearing China over 60 times with fake news, including articles with baseless attacks on the Chinese Communist Party and China's political system. Under the guidance of a small number of anti-China politicians, America's State Department is disregarding the facts, making a big deal out of nothing, and continually spreading fake news that interferes in Xinjiang. This has drawn ire and resentment from the Chinese people. Xinjiang's is currently a place of stability, economic development, racial unity, religious harmony, and improvement of the lives of the people. All ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including the Uyghurs, are living and working in peace and contentment as they have always dreamed. They are living stable, peaceful and happy lives. By comparison, systematic discrimination and violence are part of the U.S. criminal justice system. Pol data shows that 75 percent of American Muslims think that American society gravely discriminates against them. According to official U.S. numbers, since the pandemic began there are over 1 million people lining up and applying for unemployment benefits and assistance in Florida alone. Numbers don't lie! #USA
[Photo text] Any scheme to drive a wedge between the Chinese people or restrain China’s development will be looked upon by history as a joke.
[The shadow under the statue of liberty is 囧, a popular online character meaning “awkward”.]
#U.S.Embassy in China has retweeted the American State Department multiple times to attack the Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang Policy, claiming that over one million Uyghur Muslims have been “detained in camps”. China’s response: this fake news cooked up by a few American politicians is “the lie of the century.”
One of the Xinjiang-related posts in the set was posted by an asset whose page manager is located in Bangladesh. In nearly all of its previous campaigns, Spamouflage has used Bangladeshi accounts to spread disinformation in Chinese. The pattern seen above - of creating a page with a Bangladeshi name, merging it with another page, changing the name to a Chinese one, and messaging in Chinese - is typical of Spamouflage.
Spamouflage also amplified foreign YouTube influencers whose videos promote CCP propaganda. Since 2019, these foreigners have been amplified by the CCP increasingly often through features in Chinese state media. Recent investigations have revealed that Beijing has paid many of these influencers to spread disinformation. Even when money isn’t exchanged, the Chinese government effectively guarantees increased ad revenue for these influencers by giving them a platform. CCP officials also defended the influencers after these revelations.
As evidence of mass atrocity in Xinjiang has grown in past years, the Chinese government and aligned advanced persistent manipulators (APMs) have supercharged disinformation alleging that no forced labor or human rights atrocities are taking place in 2021. Spamouflage’s covert operations complement the CCP’s overt denial of such atrocities in “Xinjiang interference” press conferences (涉疆问题新闻发布会) at home, content from Chinese state media-influencers, and covert IO campaigns.
Want more? Read the rest of our Spamouflage Survives series here:
Part 1: Spamouflage Survives: CCP-aligned Disinformation Campaign Spreads on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
Part 2: Five Ways to Spot a Spamouflage Disinformation Campaign
Part 4: Strait Deception: Spamouflage Spreads Propaganda and Stokes Tensions in Taiwan
Part 5: Spamouflage’s Ill Will: Anatomizing a Two-Year Pandemic Propaganda Campaign
Part 6: Emperor in the Ether: Spamouflage’s Authoritarian Attacks on Democracy and Journalists
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See https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/world/asia/china-genocide-uighurs-explained.html; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-china-uighurs/dutch-parliament-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-is-genocide-idUSKBN2AP2CI; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56163220; https://news.sky.com/story/house-of-commons-declares-uighurs-are-being-subjected-to-genocide-in-china-1228399; https://www.axios.com/lithuania-parliament-china-uyghur-genocide-ef0382b4-6fec-44a5-80b4-793d2618e094.html.
For example, see BuzzFeed News:Inside a Xinjiang Detention Camp,China Secretly Built A Vast New Infrastructure To Imprison Muslims; Newlines Institute for Strategy and Foreign Policy The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China’s Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention; Jamestown Foundation / Adrian Zens: Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang; International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Exposed: China’s Operating Manuals for Mass Internment and Arrest by Algorithm;; New York Times: The Xinjiang Papers: THE XINJIANG PAPERS ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslim; the Chinese government was staging and scripting tours for foreign observers visiting Xinijiang; Human Rights Watch “Eradicating Ideological Viruses” China’s Campaign of Repression Against. IFTF: Detecting Digital Fingerprints: Tracing Chinese Disinformation in Taiwan; MIT Tech Review:How YouTube’s rules are used to silence human rights activists. Hacking campaigns targeting Uighurs - 2021 Facebook campaign:Taking Action Against Hackers in China; 2019 - TechCrunch Sources say China used iPhone hacks to target Uyghur Muslims; Google ProjectZero : A very deep dive into iOS Exploit chains found in the wild; 2016 PaloAlto Networks Scarlet Mimic: Years-Long Espionage Campaign Targets Minority Activists
The accusation that the West is “using Xinjiang to curb China” (以疆制华) is a common one in Chinese state media and government statements. The term 制 contains multiple meanings, including control 控制, curb or contain 遏制, and oppress 打压.