State Department: China uses artificial intelligence programs to blunt criticism of Uyghur policies

China is engaged in a global campaign of influence and disinformation, including the use of false images generated by artificial intelligence, aimed at countering reports of repression against the Uyghur minority, according to a report by the Department of statement made public on Wednesday.

The report by the Global Engagement Center, the counter-disinformation unit, concludes that China is actively manipulating the international debate over “the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity committed against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other minority ethnic and religious groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”. in a coordinated effort to amplify Chinese narratives that no genocide is taking place and to harass critics of Beijing.

“Despite these efforts to deflect attention from the situation in Xinjiang, independent media, scholars and human rights activists have published several eyewitness accounts and verifiable data that [China] imprisoned approximately one million people and that there is credible evidence of torture, forced sterilization and other abuses,” the report said.

The message involved “flooding” international news outlets in an effort to limit critical coverage of the Chinese crackdown.

Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said allegations of forced labor and genocide in Xinjiang are “vicious lies” propagated by anti-China forces. All ethnic groups in China “enjoy a happy and fulfilling life”, he said.

“It was the US government that spread false information and lies,” Liu said. “What China is doing is telling the world the truth about China’s Xinjiang region.”

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The State Department officially declared China engaged in genocide against the Uyghurs in western China in January 2021 in the final days of the Trump administration.

Wednesday’s new report says “Chinese messengers are using sophisticated AI-generated images to create the appearance of authenticity of fake user profiles,” adding that China is also using agents to “silence dissent.” by engaging in transnational digital repression, trolling and cyberbullying,” while spreading. propaganda promoting “unrelated counter-narratives, conspiracy theories and news articles”.

Chinese government social media accounts, state-linked media, private accounts, and robotic “bot groups” are contributing to the campaign, “operating “globally in at least a dozen languages,” indicates the report.

Chinese actors have engaged in what the report called “astroturfing” – coordinated campaigns of fraudulent messaging that seek to create the illusion of broad public support for Beijing’s policies when such support does not does not exist.

“Like a flood, the [People’s Republic of China] uses astroturfing to flood the information space with “positive stories” about Xinjiang and the Uighur population, including fabricated depictions of Uighurs living “simple and happy lives”, as well as posts highlighting alleged gains economic benefits that PRC policies have brought to Xinjiang,” the report said.

By mid-2021, more than 300 inauthentic accounts had posted more than thousands of hours of videos of Uyghurs appearing to deny abuses by Chinese authorities.

The videos attempted to show that Xinjiang residents disagreed with the international media’s portrayal of life in Xinjiang. Most of the videos came from controlled Chinese sites and were later posted to YouTube and Twitter.

The Chinese also use images produced by a machine learning program called StyleGAN to create realistic profile pictures for fake media accounts. The software produces composite images of people that cannot be traced back to the original photos, making it harder for social media watchers to identify the fake account.

The fake accounts claim that the alleged atrocities in Xinjiang were an invention of the United States and its allies.

The regime’s campaign targeted Chinese communities outside the country using both online and physical harassment to prevent them from sharing their personal stories or to force them to censor themselves.

“Troll campaigns are designed to silence those who speak out against the PRC, to poison the information environment with bad faith arguments, and to silence opposing viewpoints,” the report said.

“Trolling campaigns frequently turn into threats of death, rape or assault; malicious cyberattacks; and cyberbullying or harassment by doxxing – posting an individual’s personal information online without their permission, including their full name, home address, or job.

The Chinese are also aggressively denying and refuting criticism from Western media and private think tanks. It involves “a wave” of official Chinese Communist Party-affiliated media and botnets, in one case showing mechanized cotton harvesting in Xinjiang claiming that Uyghur forced labor is not necessary.

The cotton reports sought to counter reports that Chinese authorities had moved 100,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang into “coercive work placements” in factories across China.

Spreading false positive stories ‘aims to distract from reports regarding the PRC’s ‘demographic engineering’ campaign which aims to boost the Han Chinese ethnicity by diluting the Uyghur population, a predominantly Muslim Turkish ethnic group .

Online trolls have played a prominent role in “attacking, stirring up controversy, insulting and harassing internet users to poison the information environment and distract from critical narratives of the PRC”, the report said.

Chinese media outlets involved include outlets linked to the ruling Communist Party such as China Global Television Network, China Daily, China Radio International and Xinhua.

China is also partnering with foreign media outlets, including in Kenya, that publish pro-China accounts in a bid to boost the credibility of the messaging campaign, according to the report.

Adrian Zens, senior researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, has extensively documented the Uyghur crackdown, including releasing internal police files that highlight abuses. The State Department report says China is focusing its Uyghur misinformation on young people in a bid to make messaging go viral online.

The Chinese army is also engaged in the campaign.

The People’s Liberation Army is exploiting internet trolls on the issue to attack online critics, as are the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission and the Communist Youth League.

“The PRC’s Cyberspace Affairs Commission and Central Propaganda Department directly employ about 2 million people nationwide in this capacity, and another 20 million work part-time as ‘Network Civilization Volunteers,'” indicates the report. “These forces target the PRC’s domestic audience and Chinese-speaking diaspora communities.”