According to The Washington Post, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is harvesting masses of data from social media such as Twitter and Facebook to equip its government agencies, military and police with information on Western targets.
The Post made such a conclusion on China’s mining of Western social media after it has reviewed hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings.
Accordingly, China uses a countrywide network of government data surveillance services, called public opinion analysis software, that the country has developed over the past decade domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online.
China’s public opinion analysis software primarily targets its domestic Internet users and media.
However, The Washington Post said that its review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since 2020 found that the software is also designed to collect data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media.
“These surveillance dragnets are part of a wider drive by Beijing to refine its foreign propaganda efforts through big data and artificial intelligence,” the Post wrote on Dec. 31.
“They also form a network of warning systems designed to sound real-time alarms for trends that undermine Beijing’s interests,” it added.
Some of China’s budgeting includes buying and maintaining foreign social media accounts on behalf of police and propaganda departments.
The Post said that the Chinese documents describe highly customizable programs that can collect real-time social media data from individual social media users, with some detailing tracking broad trends on issues, including U.S. elections.
A Twitter spokesperson said that it prohibits the use of its platform for surveillance purposes.
In June 2020, Twitter suspended 23,000 accounts that it claimed were linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and covertly spread propaganda to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
In December 2021, Twitter also removed more than 2,000 accounts linked to Beijing that produced coordinated content undermining accusations of rights abuses in Xinjiang, China.
However, experts said that those accounts only represent a small fraction of the CCP’s efforts to boost pro-Beijing messaging on foreign social media.