THE ALLIANCE FOR SECURING DEMOCRACY EXPANDS HAMILTON 2.0 DASHBOARD TO INCLUDE CHINA
Interactive tool tracks official Chinese messaging and information manipulation on topics like COVID-19
Contact: Rachael Dean-Wilson or Kayla Goodson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C. – The Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States today expanded the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard to include the tracking of Chinese government-backed information operations on social media, state-sponsored information websites, YouTube, and via official diplomatic channels. The interactive, publicly accessible dashboard captures content from more than 150 Chinese diplomatic and media accounts on Twitter, five state-sponsored news websites, CGTN America and CCTV+’s channels on YouTube, and official statements made by the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations. Data from these accounts will be added to the existing Hamilton 2.0 dashboard, which publicly tracks Russian government and government-funded media outputs.
Collecting data since November 2019, the China section of the dashboard has captured official government messaging on topics like the Hong Kong protests, Xinjiang, the trade war with the United States, the implementation of Huawei technology in Europe, and, most notably, the global outbreak of COVID-19.
“ASD is expanding Hamilton 2.0’s tracking ability to cover overt Chinese party-state messaging at a crucial time in the evolution of Chinese propaganda,” said ASD’s media and digital disinformation fellow Bret Schafer. “The coronavirus pandemic has spurred a global information contest in which China has employed increasingly aggressive tactics and techniques in a battle for narrative supremacy. We have been able to see, in near-real time, Chinese state-backed media and government interlocutors borrowing a page from the Russian playbook in an attempt to influence global public opinion.”
- Chinese officials are dramatically increasing their presence on Western social media platforms. China’s diplomatic corps is increasingly leveraging Twitter – which is blocked in China – as a platform to influence global public opinion. Since the start of the Hong Kong protests in April 2019, Twitter accounts connected to Chinese embassies, consulates, and ambassadors have increased by more than 250 percent. The largest surge was between September and December 2019, when more than 40 new Chinese diplomatic accounts were created on Twitter – roughly the same number of Twitter accounts the Chinese diplomatic corps had in total prior to April 2019.
- China’s more confrontational posture on COVID-19 represents a clear departure from its past behavior and signals a move toward a more Russian style of information manipulation. In the early stages of the outbreak, official Chinese messaging largely focused on human-interest stories and reporting on the Chinese government’s efforts to control the virus. But from February 27 to March 26, as the virus spread rapidly to Europe and the United States, website data indicates that four of the top 10 most engaged articles on Facebook from Chinese state media outlets featured content that was critical of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19. On Twitter, Chinese diplomatic and embassy accounts promoted conspiracy theories from fringe websites, and the Chinese Embassy in Brazil engaged in a public spat with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over statements he made about China’s role in the pandemic.
- There is clear evidence that official Chinese messengers piggyback off of Iranian and Russian propaganda networks. Since Hamilton started capturing data in November 2019, three of the top five most retweeted news outlets, not including Chinese state-backed outlets, were funded by the Iranian or Russian governments (PressTV, RT, and SputnikNews were the third, fourth, and fifth most retweeted outlets, respectively). In addition, several individuals associated with Russian government-funded outlets or pro-Kremlin websites were among the 100 most retweeted accounts by Chinese accounts monitored on the dashboard.
- Chinese officials and state-backed media’s messaging patterns on the Uighurs in Xinjiang reflect many of the classic elements of Russian disinformation, with a uniquely Chinese twist. Chinese media outlets – including CGTN and CCTV’s YouTube channels – have provided a steady dose of cultural and human-interest stories set in Xinjiang, both directly and indirectly advancing the narrative that Uighurs are happy and benefiting from “reeducation camps.” These stories are intermixed with claims that the negative coverage of Xinjiang is a product of western media propaganda, a line also echoed by diplomats at the UN, who lambasted the United States and other countries for “interfering in China’s internal affairs.” Finally, there have been consistent efforts by Chinese government and government-funded media to justify the camps by connecting conversations around Xinjiang to terrorism. CGTN ran a four-part series entitled “Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang,” and the most-used hashtag by monitored accounts in tweets featuring the word “terrorism” has been #Xinjiang – including in breaking news posts featuring terrorist incidents unrelated to China or the province.
- China is more confident in its brand than Russia. Whereas Russia’s information strategy is to repel audiences from the West rather than attract them to Russia, China’s approach is typically more in line with efforts to promote a positive image of the country and its government. This is borne out most clearly in a comparative analysis of the data captured on Hamilton 2.0 from Russian and Chinese state-backed television outlets on YouTube. To date, just over 50% of CGTN and CCTV video content has focused on China. By comparison, only 4% of RT America and RT UK’s video content has focused on Russia, with little to no coverage of Russian domestic issues, culture, or politics.
The new dashboard can be accessed here: https://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/hamilton-dashboard
Join the webinar discussion about Hamilton 2.0 findings at 10am ET/4pm CEST tomorrow, Tuesday, March 31. Register here: https://gmfus.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_4NftTKUqTnuG_TiRpTfwQw
Among other features, the tool will rank the most active accounts in the data set, most popular tweets and hashtags, most discussed topics and countries, most shared articles on Facebook, and more. Hamilton 2.0 also provides summaries of videos posted to CGTN America and CCTV+’s YouTube channels, along with metrics to track their engagement. Hamilton 2.0 was developed in partnership with Debunk.eu, VidRovr, and Atlas Public Policy.
LINKS & RESOURCES:
Read about the methodology here.
Interact with the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard here.
Read the latest Hamilton Weekly report on ASD’s blog here.
Read ASD’s latest work on coronavirus and information manipulation here.
Reporters interested in a Hamilton 2.0 briefing or interview should reach out to Kayla Goodson at email@example.com.