Researchers: Chinese influence operations seek to elevate China's image, not sow discord

Researchers: Chinese influence operations seek to elevate China's image, not sow discord
© Getty Images

Security researchers say they have determined that Chinese social media influence campaigns have been more directed at convincing Americans about the benefits of China, contrasting it with Russian efforts to sow discord among the U.S. public.

The Russian influence operations, often cited as part of the nation's interference in the 2016 election, largely tried to create divisions among Americans. But researchers with the security firm Recorded Future said in a report released Wednesday that Chinese state-run accounts instead try to amplify a more positive portrayal of China than incite U.S. communities to turn on each other.

“China’s message to the world is positive, and argues that China’s rise will be beneficial, cooperative, and constructive for the global community,” the report states. “In comparison, Russia’s strategic goals are more combative, revolutionary, and disruptive — all traits that are characteristic of Russian social media influence operations since 2015.”


In their analysis of Chinese state-run media accounts, researchers also found that the accounts did not launch a full-on influence campaign directed at Americans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. They did acknowledge that some influence operations did take place ahead of the midterms.

U.S. officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter This week: Democrats churn toward next phase of impeachment fight MORE, have said that China and other countries had sought to influence Americans ahead of the midterm races. However, they also have stated that there is no evidence of foreign interference in the 2018 election.

The Recorded Future researchers also determined that the Chinese accounts saw increased engagement on their posts over the years. An engagement in social media is generally considered to be whenever an account interacts with a post, like sharing it or writing a comment.

But when it came to Instagram usage, Russian accounts both posted more frequently and had higher totals of engagement than Chinese ones.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE and other U.S. officials had warned of potential Chinese interference ahead of the midterms last year. But other leaders, like Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE, said at the time that there was no evidence that a foreign adversary like China was targeting U.S. election systems.