Have you ever seen online posts of young and happy ethnic women in China? The regions they represent are infamous for human rights abuse, yet their updates portray a peaceful and happy environment.
According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), high chances are you may have encountered the so-called frontier influencer, a part of Beijing’s propaganda arsenal.
On the surface, the videos seem normal and authentic without any apparent sign of political influence. Posing as members of Xinjiang, Tibet, and the Inner Mongolia regions, they try to push back allegations of oppression with the audience.
For example, let’s look at this video presentation.
These influencers appear on platforms banned in mainland China, such as YouTube. But if YouTube is banned in China, how can they post their videos there?
After examining 1,700 videos made in the past five years by 18 well-known Youtube accounts, ASPI suspected the involvement of third-party agencies that work on behalf of the Chinese government, called the multi-channel networks (MCNs).
The report says, “The content they create is tightly circumscribed via self-censorship and oversight from their MCNs and domestic video platforms before being published on YouTube.”
MCNs helped China-based clients monitor content, monetize videos on YouTube, and earn better viewership and ranking.
Rolling back to this video, the vlogger attempted to debunk “untrue” reports from foreign journalists with scenes of cotton fields, fresh fruits, food markets, and happily dancing adults and children from all ethnic groups.
Yet, her themes also resemble those about Xinjiang that state-backed media usually depict.
According to the research, several videos were originally shared on closely regulated Chinese social media before being moved to western platforms that are not permitted in China. They primarily target Chinese expatriate groups and use Beijing-friendly languages to attract larger global audiences.
ASPI stated, “[The influencers’] less polished presentation has a more authentic feel that conveys a false sense of legitimacy and transparency about China’s frontier regions that party-state media struggle to achieve.”