The Chinese government has been extending online propaganda to other nations in a bid to influence public opinion about the regime. Recently, a group of online trolls from China started attacking Uyghur causes. The group is believed to be supported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Trolling the Uyghur cause
In April this year, pro-Uygur Facebook pages “Talk to East Turkestan” and “Uyghur World Congress” saw a massive influx of CCP supporters who posted numerous pictures of happy people in Xinjiang to insinuate that Uyghur persecution was a myth. Many of them commented that the Facebook pages resembled terror groups, no different from ISIS.
One of the posts of the “Talk to East Turkestan” page received a stunning 1,400 comments in just a few hours. “We’re happy that this is happening because it means that the things we are sharing is angering the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)… The Chinese are trying to downplay our efforts,” Arslan Hidayat, one of the editors of the TET Facebook page, said in a statement (Bangkok Post).
Photos posted on Facebook pages have the Diba Central Army logo, which is a group of about 20 million people known to spread strong pro-Beijing propaganda online. They are also known as the “50 Cent Party” or the 50 Cent Army, since it is believed that these people are paid to post patriotic comments on social media. The group divides its members into platoons who scour social media for any post deriding CCP policies and then puts up several comments with an opposite view. The idea is to exploit the algorithm of social media platforms like Facebook so that the public ends up seeing their spam comments first.
Facebook is working to find a way to detect and disrupt such spam comments. “In this case, we have removed content and accounts that violate our policies, and will continue to investigate and take action on any abusive behaviour we find… We know our job is never done when it comes to finding and removing abuse, and we’ll continue to invest in the teams, technology, and tools required to reduce abuse on our platform,” a company spokesperson said in a statement (Daily Mail).
Erasing culture through marriage
China is also promoting marriages between Han and Uyghur ethnicities so as to slowly erase the cultural identity of Uyghurs. For instance, inter-ethnic students are given double the number of bonus points in some entrance exams. Some counties also offer cash rewards for marriages between people of different ethnicities. In Qiemo County, the government announced US$1,500 for the first five years of marriage between a Han and any ethnic minority. Social media is bombarded with videos promoting such marriages.
Party leaders believe that these policies will assimilate Uyghurs into mainstream Han culture. “Chinese policymakers and sociologists have long viewed high rates or high instances of inter-ethnic marriage as a kind of proxy symbol for social cohesion and national integration… There’s a great deal of mutual suspicion and distrust between the two groups, but that doesn’t stop the party-state from trying to push the agenda,” James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University, said in a statement (The New Arab).
But despite the efforts of the government, marriage rates between Han and Uyghurs remain very low because of historical tensions between the two communities. According to estimates, only 0.2 percent of Uyghurs were married to Han people as of 2010.