South Asia and Beyond

Pro-China Websites Posing As Local News Outlets Uncovered In 30 Countries

These websites are spread across 30 countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia where Chinese propaganda is interspersed with news aggregated from local news outlets.
 Pro-China Websites Posing As Local News Outlets Uncovered In 30 Countries

Over 100 websites which are disguised as local news outlets have been found to push pro-China content in a widespread influence campaign pushed by Beijing, digital watchdog Citizen Lab has found.

These websites are spread across 30 countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia where Chinese propaganda is interspersed with news aggregated from local news outlets.

“While the campaign’s websites enjoyed negligible exposure to date, there is a heightened risk of inadvertent amplification by the local media and target audiences,” researcher Alberto Fittarelli said in the report.

A common theme in these stories is that the politically-themed content that includes attacks are usually kept in English and is not dependent on the target audience.

Most of the content in these sites sways between conspiracy theories, often about the United States or its allies, like blaming American scientists for “leaking” Covid-19 virus.

Citizen Lab said the study started in mid-2020 and traced the network to public relations firm Shenzhen Haimaiyunxiang Media also known as Haimai.

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The report found that most of the content on the sites were sourced from a press release service called Times Newswire, which analysts at cybersecurity firm Mandiant last year found to be at the centre of a separate Chinese influence operation that targeted US audiences.

Governments around the world are increasingly using online influence campaigns to manipulate public opinion. Experts worldover say China is one of the biggest sources of such drives alongside Russia and Iran.

“As a principle, it is a typical bias and double standard to allege that the pro-China contents and reports are ‘disinformation’, and to call the anti-China ones ‘true information,'” a spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

These websites also popped up in countries like South Korea and Italy.

Earlier, South Korea’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) – part of the country’s national intelligence agency – exposed 18 of the sites in a report in November, also linking the operation to Haimai.

Subrat Nanda

At six feet and over, cool, calm and always collected. Never a hair out of place. He is the high priest of editorial facts, grammar is his baby and headlines are meat on the bone. Loves samosas and cricket, tracks Twitter and when in his cups, nothing better than Jagjit Singh’s ghazals.

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