This week, the release of the Xinjiang Police Files revealed the extent of China’s inhumane treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Yet, despite pages of suspicious and incriminating evidence, China has denied and condemned these claims. For months, Beijing has used its messengers to push back on condemnation of its rights record in the region, adeptly using search engines to amplify its narrative.
In a new report, researchers from the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the Brookings Institution detail how China exploits search engine results to sway international public opinion.
ASD’s Bret Schafer and Elen Aghekyan, along with Brookings’ Jessica Brandt, Valerie Wirtschafter, and Adya Danaditya, tracked 12 terms related to Xinjiang and Covid-19 across Google Search, Google News, Bing Search, Bing News, and YouTube over 120 days. They found:
- At least one Chinese state-backed news outlet appeared in the top ten results in 88% of searches for “Xinjiang” (106 out of 120 days searched). On YouTube, state media appeared among the top ten results in searches for “Xinjiang” in 98% of searches (118 out of 120 days searched).
- On YouTube, around five videos from Chinese state media outlets appeared in the top ten search results for “Fort Detrick” (a military base in Maryland that China has tried to frame as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic) each day.
- News search (both Google News and Bing News) and YouTube search are much more likely to disseminate Chinese state media than web search.
Users have consistently high levels of trust in search engines and view them as neutral purveyors of information, making the Chinese government’s use of this tactic to spread potential disinformation even more impactful. But tech companies can take steps to address this issue, including by labeling state media websites and providing warnings to users when search results are suspicious, the authors write.
Read Winning the Web: How Beijing exploits search results to shape views of Xinjiang and Covid-19 here: https://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/winning-the-web-how-beijing-exploits-search-results-to-shape-views-of-xinjiang-and-covid-19/
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