This report explores how the Chinese party-state’s globally focused propaganda and disinformation capabilities are evolving and increasing in sophistication. Concerningly, this emerging approach by the Chinese party-state to influence international discourse on China, including obfuscating its record of human rights violations, is largely flying under the radar of US social media platforms and western policy-makers.
In the broader context of attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to censor speech, promote disinformation and seed the internet with its preferred narratives, we focus on a small but increasingly popular set of YouTube accounts that feature mainly female China-based ethnic-minority influencers from the troubled frontier regions of Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, referred to in this report as ‘frontier influencers’ or ‘frontier accounts’.
The frontier accounts examined in this report were predominantly created in 2020–21 and feature content that closely hews to CCP narratives, but their 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. For viewers, the video content appears to be the creation of the individual influencers, but is in fact what’s referred to in China as ‘professional user generated content’, or content that’s produced with the help of special influencer-management agencies known as multi-channel networks (MCNs).