Daniel Sinclair @_DanielSinclair Building for young people. Not reading @danielsunread. Lurking behind likes and thinking about social media, communication, & China. Aug. 12, 2019 21 min read

Worth paying attention to the Hong Kong story through a lens of disinformation. A ton of Chinese nationalist comments litter China-related YouTube, and China vloggers often describe them as wumao campaigns. Would appear Twitter is yet another infowar frontier during HK's unrest.

Beijing has obviously continued their campaign to shift the narrative on Hong Kong's protests. It's becoming far more aggressive.

Hong Kong's protestors are also becoming more organized on the front of their own information war to combat Beijing and the HK SAR. The imagery of this protest now rallies around a woman who was shot in the eye by riot police yesterday.

This new imagery could be named the 'eye for an eye' campaign.

We've seen the brutality on the streets and the tear gas dispersed into crowds and subways, but we've all watched that before around the globe. This imagery is new, and it is among the strongest of an uprising since Tunisia and the body count of the Jasmine Revolution.

At the same time, we're seeing a lot of misinformation appearing, like these pictures that pretty clearly appear to be photoshopped. I don't see it combatted as aggressively as we now see in the west.  https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/11/asia/hong-kong-fake-news-intl-hnk/index.html 

As the police brutality of the antiELAB protests has escalated over the last few days, the HK & international press has shifted to publishing very real carnage imagery. Across HK social, you'll see a lot of blood today. Hongkongers are leaning into the traditionally untouchable.

The Hong Kong International Airport has suspended all remaining departing flights for the day as the 4th day of protests inside the airport have swelled. China is now describing this uprising as terrorism. We're going to see this grow worse.

China continues a PLA/PAP buildup on the Shenzhen border. The Internet is now more central to the uprising. As HK enters its 11th week of protests, it's hard to say what comes next. This may grow far bloodier, & we may very well see HK's first ISP blackout

Worth remembering how the Arab Spring shaped today's Internet. The 'Twitter Revolution' narrative was the ignition for Facebook launching Subscribe that year, then Trending. News Feed became a feed of news. FB proposed buying Twitter as late as 2014. How'd all of that workout?

With everything that happens in Hong Kong, immense consequences will ripple across Asia & the world. These protests are more cyberpunk, more connected, w/ more cameras, eyes, & reach than any other to have come before. This will matter, & it may take us half a decade to see how.

China's media channels were out in force earlier today spreading PLA/PLP propaganda out of Shenzhen. I collected them here.

Here's a slow motion video of Hong Kong's unrest set to What A Wonderful World. It was uploaded to Facebook last week by an AntiELAB supporter, and has since been mirrored across the web.  https://www.facebook.com/lianainfilms/videos/2393556087567345/?v=2393556087567345 

The extent to which the Hong Kong movement plays to a global audience, and specifically the United States, is fascinating. Venezuela's American flag waving Guaidó protests & english media circuit was powerful. The protest diplomacy we see here is unique.

Digital protest has also shifted in recent years, from digital capture, to digital creation. There are a lot of Hong Kong meme accounts buzzing across social, and largely Instagram — many are in English. These, from June, capture the earlier phases of this movement.

On the peoplevsbeijing's Instagram Story, you can see how massively modern digital creation tools have shaped info distribution for Hong Kong. 80+ stories in the last 24 hours. A real-time, curated, global briefing magazine run from an iPhone. A far cry from the tweets of 2011.

You can't attribute the tools for these events, but it is amazing how the story paradigm — in breaking free from the bounds of a standardized, textual interface — has accelerated information density. This is what became of the tools pioneered by the disappearing sext app.

As you would expect, those national anthem clips coming out of Hong Kong entered the American conversation.

This was a sigh of a relief for Beijing. We will likely see the knobs turned up across the anti-dissidence machine.

The Chinese media machine is so vast that I could not remotely capture all of the content coming out of just Twitter over the last 24 hours. In true 'white monkey' fashion, so much of this features interviews with clueless tourists helping to frame a riot.  https://twitter.com/i/moments/1161468737398157313 

While Trump's comments on Hong Kong are being framed to support this narrative, we also see more soft power trolling as the trade war continues.

While state media continues to form a narrative about Hong Kong domestically & abroad, and real disinformation campaigns grow, Chinese netizens are now encouraging violence and military intervention from behind the firewall.

As Holly points out, Chinese influencers and celebrities are currently hijacking Instagram. Broadcasting any other position from behind the firewall would have them disappeared — this slips through disinfo classifications, even if Facebook was vigilant.

It's striking to see these conversations. While very real CCP campaigns play out, China's digital-first nationalists are using their power globally. This is similar to TikTok's Kashmir propaganda war. These netizens understand their role & social power.

The campaigners are jumping aboard. State media will weaponize this conflict of interest.

The same machine, both censor and amplifier. "Since China’s censors have the ability to quickly remove offending comments, the abundance of them suggests that the government is willing to tolerate the warning they deliver, however ominous it sounds."  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/13/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-china.html 

“'The five-star flag has 1.4B guardians' CCTV wrote indignantly to its 87M followers on Weibo. 'Repost! I am a guardian of the flag!' It was reposted by more than 10M people... On Twitter the People's Daily later reposted CCTV’s original post, giving it an international audience"

"'What Is America Up To?' (#美国居心何在#) is one of the hashtags related to the incident that is shared on Chinese social media, promoted by CCTV. 'America has no right to meddle in Hong Kong affairs,' commenters on Weibo respond."  https://www.whatsonweibo.com/how-the-hong-kong-protests-are-discussed-on-chinese-social-media/ 

"On Douyin, there are dozens of different videos of violent incidents in HK that are being reposted & liked.. On Toutiao, articles relating to the HK protests are in the recommended & hot sections, while bloggers & news accounts on WeChat are also posting & reposting HK content"

I don’t know if anyone is tracking TikTok right now, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say... something is wrong here. Keyword ‘antifurry’ is ranking higher than antiELAB, and this Chinese-owned platform is an absolute wasteland, while Twitter & Instagram are ablaze.

I am seeing independent examples like this across Twitter from the last few weeks. TikTok responded that this was taken down because it featured a firearm, but a lot of content on the platform does.

Meanwhile, Douyin content encouraging violence like this — referring to the Yuen Long subway mob attacks on July 21st — is active across the platform.

I will continue to track TikTok. But what I see already has me very concerned. Facebook is currently pushing the Chinese tech threat to Congress to slow anti-trust talks — but they're right. The censorship I am seeing will have immense implications on tech

I have more evidence now. TikTok is censoring hashtags pertaining to Hong Kong's protests for American users. Not just content coming out of Hong Kong: content created by American users, and distributed in America. Beijing's machine has foot soliders on the ground here.

The deeper I look, the more I believe this satirical statement I made once to be true. There are very real national security, freedom of speech, and disinformation concerns surrounding ByteDance.

More evidence of China playing into the IRA's playbook, albeit poorly, with these vaporpersonalities on Twitter.

oh god the kpop stans are now involved too

More Instagram posts from artists playing into China's web takeover campaign. Higher Brothers from @88rising, known for slaps such as 'WeChat ft. Keith Ape'

— intermission presented by  http://memes.hk  on insta —

It would appear everyone that can reach beyond China's firewall is now doing just that to grow China's messaging even more.

Another one, as DJ Xi would say

The peoplevsbeijing Instagram account remained busy over the last 24 hours. Here's their Instagram Story that dissects the Shenzhen PLA/PLP buildup that Chinese media pushed to sow fear yesterday

Another one documenting clashes between protesters and stranded tourists trying to get into Hong Kong's airport before flights were canceled for a second day. Fascinating use of stories.

How that account documented the 'wooden stick' incident. I redacted the ID card.

How peoplevsbeijing documented the 'fake journalist' Fu Guohao incident:

After doxxing these two individuals and getting some facts wrong, the peoplevsbeijing account posted an Instagram carousel with a letter about their purpose, values, and stances. I'll archive that here in full:  https://www.instagram.com/p/B1HQ2FCg8Xr/ 

Instagram is playing a huge role in this movement, from information distribution on peoplevsbeijing to the meme accounts and the pro-China messaging trying to overrun the algorithm & search. It would appear Facebook has now stepped in to slow CCP’s global nationalism campaign.

Automated translation of Guangming Daily today. Great context from Jean on how this comparison to the colour revolution intersects with Xi Jinping Thought.

Great thread on the recent influencer patriotism explosion in China that has created turmoil for global brands who list Hong Kong and Taiwan as a 'country' on their websites.

From the outside, this Chinese nationalist wave feels kind of like brand McCarthyism. An anti-China 'red scare' — or colour scare, really — burgeoning alongside Hong Kong's turmoil. It deeply intersects with the mobile-first culture of China.

"I am a flag bearer." Great piece from @stegersaurus  https://qz.com/1682950/hong-kong-celebrities-vow-to-protect-chinese-flag-on-weibo/ 

The true reason we are seeing this is, really, survival. The VIP and celebrity atmosphere of China has changed under anti-corruption, 'Strike Hard' Xi era. If you don't want to go missing like Fan Bingbing, you put your foot in the door on Instagram.  https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45728459 

oh god

Good analysis of what the average Chinese is feeling right now. It's not just the sworn party members, wumaos, or educated nationalists — it feels like an attack on China. This is why Chinese state media has leaned so heavily into blaming the U.S. and CIA.

Seems legit 👍

The paranoia surrounding a PLA/PLP invasion continues. There are so many different videos like this, both from Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and China's b-roll media campaigns. Some old, some new, but largely forming a distortion field for western audiences.

Too, this adds fuel to the domestic audience storm that was created in recent weeks after CCP leaned out of the highly contained and controlled narrative surrounding Hong Kong. They tweaked the message, built the momentum, then unleashed the billion users.

Great historical framing of the 'red wall' social media wall takeovers we've seen from Chinese over the last few days.

Yesterday it looked like Facebook had slowed some of the Instagram takeover. I’m not as convinced now; the deranking could have been pro-Hong Kong supporters creating competing content. There is still some real ‘fake news’ here harping on China’s ‘meddling America’ narrative

Can someone at Facebook please go ahead and book that aesthetically unpleasing War Room again

The earliest post on this Instagram account that is ranking prominently under #hongkong is from 16 hours ago. You see IRA-like sharable, funny content. And then you also see the main talking points of China's machine, and a conspiracy about the HK women who suffered an eye injury

"Concentrated at first in Admiralty, the unofficial government district, they’re now occurring in a wide range of neighborhoods, shifting from preplanned marches to flash-mob civil disobedience organized on social media platforms."  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-15/hong-kong-s-massive-protests-raise-ominous-questions-about-2047 

"In busy [Hong Kong] subway stations, strangers are sharing pro-democracy memes and information on upcoming marches via AirDrop"

Really great piece from @MattCampbell. Hong Kong's youth are aging into a country with an expiration date, where capitalism is failing, and democracy & culture is increasingly squeezed. HK is beginning to mean more to China than it does to the people of HK  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-15/hong-kong-s-massive-protests-raise-ominous-questions-about-2047 

This thread isn’t over 🎶

There have been some updates.

Get plugged in.

Take a deep breath.

And let’s decipher the cyber.

As we embark on Phase 2 of this exploration into the Hong Kong protests, I want to start by answering where we are, how we got here, & what we saw along the way. We’ll find familiar faces & friends along the journey — & maybe we’ll decipher where this goes next.

zoom zoom fam 🤙

We've entered the 11th week of the antiELAB movement. It felt like the movement had slowed. The storm dissipated. Protestors reconciled with the violence that sprung up last week in Hong Kong International — that feels like a significant turning point.  https://www.wsj.com/video/clashes-at-hong-kong-airport-reveal-weakness-of-leaderless-movement/41244ACD-257B-4B19-972A-09E32100BA89.html 

Following the violence and doxxings that ensued in HKG, we saw organizers on Telegram create an apology campaign, targetted largely at the press and those peering into Hong Kong. It was empathetic — and it worked.

The imagery was striking.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/world/asia/hong-kong-airport-protests.html 

The protestors and organizers on the ground clearly understood the impact of the movement's violence, despite it being among a small subgroup, and largely trumped by the brutality of HK police. This was fuel for Beijing's information war. And it quickly became exactly that.

It was here that the Chinese machine kicked into full gear. What was at first psychological warfare of PLA/PLP b-roll designed to incite Tiananmen fears in HK & around the globe, and content designed to catalyze mainland opposition to HK, ultimately became a distortion field.

But I'll get there.

Let's first examine China's new found nationalist cancel culture. As the HK protests grew stronger, we saw state media catalyze & stew Chinese nationalism. It was always there, but we saw the firewall fall and support of a One China swell to new heights.

Any brand that gave credence to Hong Kong or Taiwan sovereignty was now staring down the barrel of 800M Chinese netizens in the midst of a One China culture war. We may never see something like this, at this scale, in western society. This was unique.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49354017 

It was truly fascinating to watch Chinese nationalism, which is already very strong, grow to new heights and explode across the Internet. This isn't inherently bad — unless you're Hong Kong — but we also saw it enter western conscious in new ways.  https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2019-08-18/chinese-k-pop-stars-hong-kong 

Those that could reach beyond the Chinese firewall did. American companies like 88rising, which supports & globalizes Chinese artists (& Asian artists more broadly), may have viewed this as market protectionism. Rap is sensitive to Beijing, and if you manage rappers, you lean in.

They seem to have since backpedalled in support for the Higher Brothers — their largest Chinese rap group — but does it matter? What I see is an alarming weaponization of access to the Chinese market. Do we categorize these misaligned incentives as propaganda? Greater CCP reach?

How do we define the bowing & backpedaling we witnessed from global brands catering to a Chinese audience? China deserve respect too. But, we need to recognize that these 'cancels' are pawns in a long con. Democratic ideals are bowing to China & capitalism. Is disinfo too narrow?

When K-pop artsts and stans are now tools for Chinese state media to frame Hong Kong's protestors as mere criminals, or terrorists, how do we approach power, propaganda, and disinformation? The lines brilliantly blur. The stans attack. The power wins.  https://supchina.com/2019/08/16/hong-kong-jackson-wang-pulls-out-of-88rising-festival-after-supporting-beijing/ 

Coming out of the more violent imagery we saw in Hong Kong over the last few weeks, we did see a more familiar distortion field emerge. We saw the CIA and U.S. intervention conspiracies pedaled by the state. We saw fake news describing this BB gun as a U.S. Army grenade launcher

We saw clueless 'white monkey' interviews & Trump footage chopped up by a media machine in overdrive, forming new, untrue narratives. We saw Chinese nationalists swarming over the firewall & reclaiming Twitter & Instagram hashtags. Instagram went red. Twitter couldn't be trusted.

We saw real nationalism. And we also saw what was very evidently a familiar disinformation campaign. New accounts appeared in hours. Profiles were thin facades of fake identities. A lot of content appeared. Hashtags & keywords were actively used to counterattack & spread messages

I thought I saw actions from Facebook across Instagram — then I was less convinced. The disinformation was truly working, and was widely known. The weekend hit, and the people that you want to reassure you in times like this weren’t talking, despite all that came before.

Yesterday, we saw peaceful protests in Hong Kong. Organizers estimate 1.7 million people attended, making it evident that this movement is ongoing. Hong Kong Police and Chinese State Media are pushing that number down into the low hundred thousands to frame a dwindling movement.

Following the reconciliation, and recalibration of clear goals, demands, and etiquette, we saw videos like this across Telegram, foreshadowing the 818 weekend demonstrations. The organizing media machine is stronger, and a lot more focussed. "It's now or never."

It rained, and the protests pushed through. There were a lot of symbolic nods to 2014's Umbrella Movement. "Tear gas won’t work in the rain."

In true Hong Kong cyberpunk fashion, protestors with lasers lit up the Government HQ.

At the same time, we saw yet another psychological warfare flare up. More PLP b-roll designed to satisfy a domestic audience & instill Tiananmen fears in HK.

Most damning is how western media continues to share & elevate these videos. Keep in mind that what we see is what they want us to see. The footage, the satellite evidence. This is a show, and the videos are the actionable platform, not the evidence.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/19/world/asia/hong-kong-china-troops.html 

Is it really a coincidence that the PLA/PLP buildup is parked in the open-roofed Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, & demonstrating openly on the front lawn? The cameras are rolling & every satellite fleet is beaming on this stadium — and that's what they want.

We saw a lot from Chinese state media, w/ down right fake news, disinformation, & the CCP skew. But the China atmosphere is complicated, and I want to lay out perspectives on where we are, and where this is going. Let's go down the Falun Gong rabbit hole 🤙

This piece from @RealRogueRocket captures a lot of the history of the Falun Gong & their prominent anti-China Shen Yun performance. It also highlights the questionable, murky, down-right confusing atmosphere of truth in the war between CCP & the Falun Gong  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8tpzgaZyzg 

As you would expect, the Falun Gong took down that video with a fraudulent copyright claim. It has since been restored. But, what I want you to understand is that for every CCP punch & narrative, there is now a sophisticated, far-reaching competitor.

The Falun Gong practice emerged in China in the 90s during the qigong boom. By '99, both the group & CCP claimed it grew to 70M members — neither was truthful, for different reasons. CCP cracked down, imprisoned, & killed thousands. Real human rights violations occurred.

For decades, the group claimed the Chinese government used imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners as an organ supply. The evidence is contradictory. Transplant numbers are alarming & yet immunosuppressant drugs aren't entering China. More multilateral backing  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-china-rights/china-is-harvesting-organs-from-falun-gong-members-finds-expert-panel-idUSKCN1TI236 

Much of the Falun Gong leadership fled to the U.S. in '99, and it is this that Chinese state media are currently latching on to create & project an enemy to the mainland Chinese people. 'Meddling America,' as it always were.

In the history of Tibet, China's fears of the Falun Gong, of religion, and of western influence disrupting power do materialize. Our influence continues to scar China today in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and through the living Dalai Lama.

If we remember back to those naive days of late 2016, before the Trade War and the most aggressive stands against China we have seen in decades, one of President-elect Trump's first phone calls set off global chaos. This set the tone of US-China relations.

Today, China Daily continued with the CCP 'black hand' narrative of U.S. interventionism in Hong Kong, and this time, it wasn't 2016-like meme collage portraying Julie Eadeh (political unite chief of the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong) as an operative  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201908/17/WS5d578b28a310cf3e355664f1_2.html 

Julie Eadeh (not a CIA operative) was doxxed in China on August 8th. It ignited a web of conspiracies that surfaced in Chinese state media, and on western social media and platforms. Even now, this is how Google reflects this doxxed not-a-CIA-operative State Department employee.

Everyone's favorite Chinese diplomat obviously tweeted about it.

China Daily's latest focus is sadly much more grounded in reality. It targets the National Endowment for Democracy, a Congress-funded grant organization that focuses on human rights, religious freedom, and Democracy. It was cofounded by President Reagan.  https://youtu.be/BkWPj2jFVUA 

The NED truthfully likely shares directionality with the initiatives of the intelligence community. In the last decade, it has amplified focus on China. Since 2014 alone, this was the organization's reach in China.  https://www.ned.org/wp-content/themes/ned/search/grant-search.php?organizationName=&region=Asia&projectCountry=China&amount=&fromDate=&toDate=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&projectFocus%5B%5D=&search=&maxCount=100&orderBy=Country&start=1&sbmt=1 

How does the NED relate to the Falun Gong? Well, countless conspiracies littered across the web describe the Falun Gong and NED as direct CIA operations. Those are conspiracies. The Friends of Falun Gong USA however project their NED-sphere roots.  http://fofg.org/about-us/ 

Some things are true. Others are simply wrong, or lies. Some are a well-crafted truth distortion fields. A lot of what comes from the Falun Gong resembles the latter. China Daily's conspiracies are distorted truths, framed lies — but they're equally Falun Gong's posturing too.

The lack of oversight in this murky sinosphere of true power struggles & a group fearing for their life, taking refuge in America under American interests, sadly sits as a vacuum ready to be manipulated. Chinese disinfo of the distorted 'black hand' continues to ride Google.

In 2013, the CCP released a military propaganda film titled 'Silent Contest.' It describes the western support of the Dalai Lama & Uyghur's as a political & cultural infiltration, a multilateral conspiracy to hold China back, & a CIA westernization ploy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhHvhm3Ey_0 

These nationalistic, military-origin conspiracies have existed in China for a long time, but rarely have ever been broadcast abroad. Silent Contest leaked, against great efforts. Here's an edited interview w/ Gen @robert_spalding of the Hudson Institute on what China believes.

This interview, by The Epoch Times, does capture the American position well. This is what Rob Spalding believes of the PLA/PLP propaganda surrounding a Hong Kong invasion. "One way or the other, I think [the HK protests] will end."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFBBiHyTjZk 

On the ignition for the antiELAB movement, the feelings among young people, and the likelihood that this continues, or grows violent:

On open & closed systems, and the 'parasitic' nature of China's closed system inside the global open system:

On the bilateral decouple, and growing opportunity for North & South America trade: "[China is] successful economically because they're pooling wealth, knowledge, talent, and technology out of the open system. We would never let the Soviet Union do that."

Intermission presented by Not A Bot v48677582 @pengxu48677582

I've brought this into the weeds and discussed the National Endowment for Democracy, the Falun Gong, featured Rob Spalding's interview, and discussed China's new spin on a conspiratorial narrative that pushes the blame for HK's uprising onto a Trade War CIA op, for a reason.

The Epoch Times, who featured the Spalding interview and highlighted the fairly reasonable American position, is a property founded by Falun Gong members after their emigration in 2000. That's not a bad thing, but it highlights how murky this entire atmosphere truly is.

Following 2016, platforms made changes to highlight what content was funded by state-backed media. It aptly left out content of the Falun Gong network. Many of us would support this content. But it's a concerning precedent. It's truly hard to decipher incentives & power.

Falun Gong practitioners have a bias, & over the last decade, have amassed a significant platform across YouTube. Their history is both heartbreaking & concerning — they do lie, like China lies. Yet, they sit in the midst of a concerning tit-for-tat of world powers while HK roars

They're joined by New Tang Dynasty Television, one property being China Uncensored. This isn't a bad thing. But, biased sources are, and always will be, a concern. Like we saw in the pro-China case of 88rising, how do we vet this? How do we define what this is, and what it does?

Here we sit today, w/ the official news of coordinated Chinese disinformation campaigns across Facebook properties & Twitter breaking, and unlike my blind optimism suspected, those platforms weren't watching last week. They were tipped off.

In the last week, the step change of the IRA's wake finally arrived. Familiar researchers we've come to appreciate were the only eyes watching. The gap shrunk— but the platforms were blind to China, & have only scratched the surface of this murky multilateral fog. We're not ready

Take a deep breathe everyone. "the calm before the storm"

👀


You can follow @_DanielSinclair.



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