China is exploiting Western social media to equip its military and police with information about foreign targets, according to a new report from The Washington Post. This disclosure was made after the review of hundreds of Chinese bid documents, contracts and company records.
This new report says China maintains a nationwide network of data surveillance services developed over the past decade and used domestically to alert officials to politically sensitive information online.
Targeting domestic internet users and media, the software also collects data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media.
The documents the Washington-based publication has access to also show that Chinese agencies, including state media, propaganda departments, police, military and cyber regulators, are buying new or more sophisticated systems to collect data.
The report states that China’s state media software program is mining Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics.
The report further reveals that a Beijing police intelligence program is analyzing Western content about Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also catalogs Uyghur language content abroad.
“Now we can better understand the underground network of anti-China personnel,” said a Beijing-based analyst who works for a unit reporting to China’s Central Propaganda Department.
The unit was once tasked with producing a data report on how negative content related to Beijing’s senior leadership is being spread on Twitter, including profiles of individual academics, politicians and journalists, the report said.
“They’re now refocusing some of that effort outwardly, and I think that’s frankly terrifying, given the sheer numbers and sheer scale this has taken in China,” said Mareike Ohlberg, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, as quoted by The Washington Post.
She added: “It really shows that they now feel that it is their responsibility to defend China abroad and fight the war of public opinion abroad.”