China Harvesting Social Media Data as Weapon Against Foreign Targets

Zapp2Photo /
Zapp2Photo /

The Washington Post recently revealed that China is using the power of the surveillance network to harvest significant social media data aimed at Western targets. This came from a review of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts, and company filings. The Chinese Community Party (CCP) is actually mining social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter so that they can equip government agencies like the military and police with information on foreign targets.

The Washington Post wrote, “China maintains a countrywide network of government data surveillance services — called public opinion analysis software — that was developed over the past decade and are used domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online.”

The news outlet explained that China’s software primarily targets their own domestic users and media. But in a review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since the beginning of 2020, there are orders for software that is designed to collect data on foreign targets in social media as well.

These documents also reveal that agencies including state media, propaganda departments, and cyber regulators are buying new and more sophisticated systems to gather data.

The Post noted, “These include a $320,000 Chinese state media software program that mines Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics; a $216,000 Beijing police intelligence program that analyzes Western chatter on Hong Kong and Taiwan; and a cyber center in Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uyghur population, that catalogs the mainly Muslim minority group’s language content abroad.”

An analyst in China said that the government’s system allows for them to better understand the underground network of anti-China personnel. There was a project initiated that involved producing a report on how negative content focused on the senior leadership of Beijing is spread on Twitter. The reported included profiles of individuals in academics, politics, and journalists.

This massive surveillance effort from the government is aimed at a mission to refine their foreign propaganda efforts through huge data and artificial intelligence. The Post said that it was a part of a network of warning systems designed to create real-time alarms that signal trends that could undermine Beijing’s interests.

In the past, there has been a great focus domestically, but Mareike Ohlberg said that China is now “reorienting” its focus to move outward. Ohlberg has researched China’s domestic public opinion network and she is a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. She described what she has uncovered as “frankly terrifying,” and she said that it indicates that the government sees it as their responsibility to defend China overseas and win the war on foreign public opinion.

This revelation from The Post gives further insight into China’s widespread technological objectives. There was a bombshell report in May of 2021 that showed that the Chinese Communist government was accused of testing an artificial intelligence emotion-detection camera system. This was focused on Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

There was a software engineer who claimed to have installed this facial and emotion detection system in police stations. This was in a province that has 12 million ethnic minority Uyghurs. It was said that the Chinese government was using this people group as test subjects for various experiments, just like rats are being used in laboratories.

The emotion detection camera is similar to a lie detector, but far more advanced in its technology, the software engineer stated. This system is being used in police stations often with restraint chairs that lock both your wrists and ankles in place.

Bottom line…China is building its cases against foreign targets by keeping its eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages.