China may seem very impressive, but it’s still playing catch up in turning the internet into garbage. While the West embraces the metaverse and NFTs, China is still assembling bot armies. But, as usual, it does everything bigger so its armies of bots and trolls have to be the biggest.
The Shanghai police are looking to create hundreds of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other major social media platforms. The police department emphasizes that the task is time sensitive, suggesting that it wants to be ready to unleash the accounts quickly to steer discussion.
Bot-like networks of accounts such as those that the Shanghai police want to buy have driven an online surge in pro-China traffic over the past two years. Sometimes the social media posts from those networks bolster official government accounts with likes or reposts. Other times they attack social media users who are critical of government policies.
Do the Shanghai cops really need an army of sock puppets on Twitter? Apparently they think they do. And hiring Americans to pretend to be Americans gets expensive. It’s much cheaper to hire Chinese trolls to pretend to be American trolls. Just ask the Russians.
Or this guy.
The magazine I work for is one of several foreign-language rags published under the eminent leadership of the Communist Party of China. Along with dozens of other “foreign experts” at the Death Star—as an English colleague nicknamed the gray block of concrete cubes on the west side of Beijing where we work—our job is ostensibly to introduce the realities of China and its socialist democracy to the rest of the world…
I remember finding one especially painful example in an article about “the new-type model of major power relations between China and the United States,” a phrase that was duplicated in its entirety at least once in each paragraph. In every revision I mercilessly slashed it out, only to find in the next draft that some variation of “the new-type model of major power relations” had somehow crept back in. “It’s a set phrase,” my chief editor explained. “We’re not supposed to change it.” This what you get when you let bureaucratic functionaries set your editorial policies.
That is to say that Russian trolls are more interesting than Chinese trolls, but neither are very interesting especially compared to the exciting varieties of homegrown craziness we can produce.
China is not very good at manipulating Americans, but it’s pretty good at buying up our elites wholesale so it doesn’t really need to.
Russia, Iran, and every other player in the information warfare space has little leverage on us. Investing in troll armies buys influence at a discount rate. But China doesn’t need troll armies and it’s bad at building and deploying them anyway. What it has is massive amounts of leverage and hacking abilities that top anyone else. And yet it still has to keep investing in trying to humanize its regime.
That’s one thing it isn’t any good at. Much like building dams.