China deploys foreign ‘YouTubers’ to create narratives and defame its critics: Experts

New Delhi: A group of foreign YouTubers, ranging from British to Singapore, have recently been found uploading content and video that either praises China’s rapid development or criticises and tries to ‘debunk’ any negative foreign reports about it. China has expertise in the manipulation of narratives and the propagation of false information, and these legions of foreign social media influencers seem to be the latest weapon that Beijing has deployed in order to defame its critics and to shift the narrative in its favour. Experts who have been tracking these YouTubers observed that there have been hundreds of videos garnering millions of views.

YouTubers deny that they are paid and sponsored by the Chinese government. When asked about why they continue to defend China, most of the content creators state that they are on a self-appointed mission to debunk the ‘lies’ of the West and if Chinese media shares their content ‘there is no harm in it.’ But the connection between these so-called independent YouTubers with Chinese State media does not end at the state media just sharing their content, by their own admission these YouTubers have even collaborated with Chinese state media on multiple videos.

“One of these such content creators has less than 30,000 subscribers but regularly posts videos praising China and comparing the West to China with the goal of making it appear that China is better than the West. Similarly, one British vlogger frequently travels around China in his videos where he tries to portray China as the perfect country and the Chinese people as perfect and content,” one of the experts aware of these developments told Zee Media.

China has banned YouTube within its territories but the content of these YouTubers is widely shared and repeatedly praised by China’s state media like CGTN and many others. Their content is also widely spread on Chinese media platforms. The same Chinese media is highly critical of foreign media and foreign content creators. Any negative coverage by foreign media and accredited journalists about China’s actions is dubbed to be a ploy of the West but the content of these YouTubers is spread and promoted like gospel.

Over the course of researching these YouTube channels, a trend emerges. Most of the videos posted by these content creators during the early stages of their career were normal apolitical travel videos wherein these creators would travel to different places in Asia and try their food etc. Then about a year ago, their content became political and focused on debunking Western ‘lies’. 

The intended audience for these YouTube videos is still unclear as they will only convince those individuals that are already staunch believers that China is innocent. But in China, these videos can have a major effect by reinforcing people’s faith in the Party by hiding the truth about the Chinese government’s actions.

These YouTubers continue to defend China despite the US and many other country’s accusing Beijing of genocide against Uyghur Muslims residing there. There has also been ample evidence collected pointing towards China using Uyghurs as slave labour and subjecting them to forced sterilisation and political indoctrination.

The extent of falsehood being perpetrated by these Youtubers can be gauged from a particular video where one known Youtubers went as far as to claim that the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that were led by students was akin to terrorism. These YouTubers opined that demanding individual rights, freedoms and the right to protest is terrorism.

These YouTubers and Vloggers are one small part of China’s large and extensive misinformation and propaganda strategy. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, China launched a very deliberate campaign to spread misinformation about the virus so as to deflect blame and attention away from the fact that China’s inaction during the early stages was the cause for its rapid spread around the globe.

A common belief has existed in the folklore of many cultures, ‘how much to sell your soul to the devil?’. The answer to that question is subjective as it depends on the person, but the result of the same can be seen that China has assembled a legion of foreign YouTubers to defend itself online and to disprove allegations of human rights abuses made against it by multiple countries.

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