Despite obvious comparisons to Orwell's literary observations of Stalin's regime, it's impossible not to notice how the Chilling Effect from the recent social media mania in liberal Western democracies is so reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Party's social suppression techniques. The US Attorney General's extraordinary denouncement of American companies "collaborating" with the Chinese government and the suspicion of their own companies' presence in our infrastructure is a testament to the dangers we are facing. The Asian Tiger is stronger than its the bounds of its supposed cage, and Silicon Valley has a new mentor. Only Marxist ideologues refer to a "correct" way of thinking or speaking; liberal, plural societies systematise fault tolerance and conflict in order to find what is accurate or true.
It's quite interesting to notice the CCP's language when it's put on the defensive. Each time the same complaint surfaces: of others "interfering in our internal affairs". It's a revealing statement about their sensitivities. On the surface, it might seem a simple case of "mind your own business", but when one considers that traditional Chinese culture is antithetical to Marxist-Leninism, it takes on a whole new context.
The CCP are extraordinarily aware of the the threat of infiltration and subversion, and the need to maintain complete social control. They also happen to be the same weaponised tactics communists themselves publicly state they rely on to take over democracies.
It can found in the new "security" law recently forced on Hong Kong while the world battled Covid-19. As the BBC summarised it:
The details of the law's 66 articles were kept secret until after it was passed. It criminalises any act of:
secession - breaking away from the country
subversion - undermining the power or authority of the central government
terrorism - using violence or intimidation against people
collusion with foreign or external forces
How interesting. The Chinese Communist Party is directly outlawing and suppressing exactly what it is doing in other countries. It's clearly aware of the power of subversion.
What Happened in 2004?
As social media developed with its first services and the age of Internet digitisation emerged, China created the Confucius Institute program, aimed at creating 1000 "partnerships" at universities all over the world by 2020. The stated aim of the program is to "promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges".
But as the China Post pointed out in 2014:
"Certainly, China would have made little headway if it had named these Mao Institutes, or even Deng Xiaoping Institutes. But by borrowing the name Confucius, it created a brand that was instantly recognized as a symbol of Chinese culture, radically different from the image of the Communist Party."
We immediately have a problem: Chinese culture is not the Maoism enforced on it since the 1950s; Uyghurs are being "re-educated" in labour camps, and the country's "culture" is communism.
It didn't take long before the absolute flood of problems started: allegations of espionage, speech suppression, and more. A 2013 article by Marshall Sahlins highlighted US universities' supine naivete in hosting this new machine: https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/china-u/.
A years before, Steven Mosher had testified to the US Congress they were more accurately named "Trojan horses with Chinese characteristics":
"The purpose of the United Front Work Department, it should be noted, is subversion, cooption and control. During the Communist revolution, it subverted and coopted a number of other political parties, such as the Chinese Socialist Party, into serving the interests of the Communist Party. After the establishment of the PRC, it continued to control these parties, which were allowed to exist on sufferance, albeit as hollow shells, to create the illusion of “democracy” in China. That it has de facto control over the Hanban suggests, more strongly than anything else, what one of the chief purposes of the Confucius Institutes are, namely, to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China."
It only gets worse.
"In addition, there have been allegations of Confucius Institutes undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, monitoring the activities of Chinese students abroad, and attempting to advance the Chinese Party-State’s political agenda on such issues as the Dalai Lama and Tibet, Taiwan independence, the pro-democracy movement abroad, and dissent within China itself."
Until it gets to something we're all a bit familiar with now.
"It goes without saying that these teachers are carefully vetted for ideological purity before being assigned to indoctrinate young Americans in a “correct,” which is to say positive, understanding of the Chinese Party-State and its growing role in the world, as well as explaining to them why Chinese dissident groups abroad, such as Tibetan independent activists, democracy groups and the Falun Gong, must be opposed."
Earlier this year, the Chinese ambassador to the UK was openly inviting students to "serve the motherland" (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/chinese-students-in-britain-told-to-serve-motherland-522kffm2f)
Just decades after inviting in the worst academics of the Frankfurt Institute and the French postmodern garbage, the American Academy's open liberalism and interest in "new" ideas appears to be being exploited once again for the purposes of subversion.
What Happened in 2007?
The year before the great economic crisis, politicians in China were encouraged by the success of their overseas "educational" plan. Building on 50 years of experience, they launched the "Great External Propaganda” program to "correct" external impressions of the Motherland. It started with the Xinhua news agency, which was launched in New York around 2006.
Then it started buying stakes in media companies; a process known as "localisation".
As He Qinglian noted (https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/3267), it consisted of 3 aspects.
Invite people from the countries targeted by external propaganda to work as reporters and editors of publications. There are two types of invitations. One is for hiring people in the country the publication targets. The majority of those chosen are locals and have journalism experience. In addition, government officials of the target countries are invited to serve as advisors to the external propaganda publications and take part in topic selection and planning. Furthermore, large sums of money are spent to invite influential people in the local mainstream media to contribute articles to the publications, borrowing their mouths to speak for China. These well-packaged articles are sometimes quoted in the mainstream media, enhancing the effect of the propaganda. The other is for hiring foreign experts to work for the CIPG in Beijing.
Change the previous practice of printing in China and shipping to the target countries; instead, directly print and publish in the target country. Beginning in 2004, CIPG, the flagship of China’s external propaganda, has taken the lead in implementing the strategy of localizing external propaganda periodicals. In October of that year, the Middle East and Latin American bureaus of China Today magazine were established in Cairo and Mexico, respectively, where the Arabic and Spanish editions of the magazine were published and distributed.21 In June 2005, the “localized” bureau of the English edition of the Beijing Review launched operations in North America. In July, the People’s China magazine implemented localization in Japan.22 These publications all adopted state purchasing methods, that is, all the publications are purchased with state funds, and delivered to Chinese embassies for free distribution to local political leaders and elites.23 Taking the Beijing Review as an example, the magazine is primarily sent to government representatives in North America and well-known libraries.
Regard foreign experts as representatives of the targeted country. CIPG has accumulated more than 60 years of experience in hiring foreign experts. An examination of the standards used by CIPG for selecting foreign experts helps one to understand how the Chinese authorities choose foreign experts.
One might see these expansions as a "defensive" strategy, perhaps; an image control machine counteracting bad PR when China yet again does something reprehensible it doesn't want people to like, such as enforcing sterilisation of people in concentration camps.
Chinese investors now own majority stakes in AMC, GE Appliances, Smithfield Foods, Legendary Entertainment, Riot Games, Ingram Micro, Motorola, and of course, Reddit. Moreover, their predatory investment behaviour has even led the Federalist to question the New York Times, Amazon, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and Bloomberg: https://thefederalist.com/2020/05/04/has-china-compromised-every-major-mainstream-media-entity/.
Sino Insider has referred to this complex as the CCP's "Red Matrix", using a comparison to the infamous 90s film which is also shared by voters on the Right-wing of Western economies:
"The Soviet Union formed the Iron Curtain to “block out” the West. The CCP, however, created a Red Matrix to “plug in” the world to a view of China that it controls. The Red Matrix is arguably more insidious than the simulation featured in the 1999 film by The Wachowskis. Consuming the “red pill” of knowledge may only result in a partial “unplug” from the CCP’s simulation given the decades of misinformation and disinformation about China that has been knowingly or unknowingly prodbeen uced by Western information repositories and providers. The “red pilled” may also struggle to surmount the informational void about the CCP and its elite politics to truly “know the enemy” and develop countermeasures. In recent years, countries like Australia and the U.S. are starting to realize the difficulties of “unplugging” the populace from the Red Matrix."
This is all sounding a little too familiar.
The Chinese megaphone has grown to enormous size: https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2020/beijings-global-megaphone
The Greatest Gift: State-Level Anonymous Social Media Astroturfing
Facebook has always maintained a "policy" of requiring users to provide a "real" name. However, every other "platform", despite the existence of trolling from the mid-90s - has downplayed the problem of allowing anonymous usernames in the name of inflating their subscriber numbers for shareholders.
Social media was a dream for regimes who rely on the manipulation of public opinion - almost all of which are our enemies. We put our entire society online, without protections, and allowed anyone to manipulate it. Social authoritarians and communist dictatorships everywhere realised what it was: a machine to control public opinion.
Twitter is the ultimate United Front.
At what point did those enemies realise they could change tac from a defensive position to actively influencing forward events? You have to be staggeringly naive to assume they didn't. Or be on their payroll to not mention it.
In the annals of history, it has to rate as one of the most foolish and disastrous mistakes any culture has made. And no-one would be planning to interrupt us making it; a fact which seems to have escaped our leaders despite being repetitively warned over and over again.
A damning article in Quartz outlined the degeneration of the algorithm-as-editor paradigm which has caused so much chaos:
"Propaganda required money, talent, and infrastructure to create and distribute. It was an expensive and blunt instrument for top-down control. Today we have democratized propaganda — anyone can use these strategies to hijack attention and promote a misleading narrative, a hyperbolic story, or an outrageous ideology — as long as it captures attention and makes a profit for advertisers."
With all the talk of "Russian bots" during the Brexit and Trump campaigns, as always, there's an element of truth. The idea in itself was absurd, but... right idea, wrong country. Russia's far wilier than leaving an electronic paper trail when they can simply walk into other people's countries and leave nerve agents on their doorknob; their geopolitical goals are in reclaiming the Eastern bloc.
That said, evidence of the CCP's involvement in running huge-scale bot networks is everywhere: it's even been documented scientifically in Nature magazine: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42005-020-0340-4.
This year, for example, Twitter removed a "highly sophisticated" disinformation network of 170,000 accounts:
"Researchers and some Western governments have voiced fears that China deploys networks of state-controlled or state-linked accounts that masquerade as genuine users to spread government messaging or disinformation. Twitter said it had dismantled "state-linked" networks run by a "highly engaged core" of 23,750 accounts and boosted by a further 150,000 "amplifier" accounts."
Fears? "Some" governments? Try evidence they definitely do, and almost all of them.
The rot goes so, so much deeper. Terrifyingly complex super-structures at a scale most Westerners can't even conceive of. In a little-known Harvard paper, 3 researchers paint a harrowing picture of what's emerged in the East.
"The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. "
"How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument" (Gary King, Jennifer Pan, Margaret E. Roberts)
In the corporate world, this used to be known as astroturfing, which is mainly used for product reviews and celebrity PR fails. It's the digital equivalent of the front group tactic.
Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source's financial connection. The term astroturfing is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word "grassroots". The implication behind the use of the term is that instead of a "true" or "natural" grassroots effort behind the activity in question, there is a "fake" or "artificial" appearance of support.
At the state level, these 2M people are known as "50 centers", as they are allegedly paid 50 cents for each comment (https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/who-are-chinese-trolls-50-cent-army). Referenced in the paper are the emails leaked from the Internet Propaganda Office of Zhanggong, a district of Ganzhou City in Jiangxi province.
Among them are the "instructions for Internet commentators", which even detail responses which should be given about the Coronavirus pandemic. These, coincidentally, go back as far as 2005 at the same time as the student influx: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/jun/14/newmedia.china
The activities of this enormous bot-army are categorised into 5 areas:
- Taunting of foreign countries – Ridiculing western democracies
- Argumentative praise or criticism – Criticising netizens for pro-western views or opinion
- Non-argumentative praise or suggestion – Praising CCP officials
- Factual reporting – Promoting government programs, events and initiatives
- Cheerleading – Expressing patriotism, inspirational slogans and the love for the party (This accounts for over 60 percent of all posts and contents)
With 2 million people operating 10 accounts a day, at 2 comments ($1.00) a minute, is it any wonder Westerners are confused at the sheer deluge of traffic? Is it really that hard to understand how, if many people's sense of reality is reflected by the time they spend on social media, that reality itself would appear inverted, and/or things would seem upside down?
More pertinently, is it any wonder if we put our entire society online, that our enemies might try to control ours, as they control their own?
Demoralisation As A Military Tactic
Physical force isn't the only dimension to warfare; in fact, it's the last. As Sun Tzu so infamously wrote in "The Art of War", knowing your enemy is the secret to the battle, and you only march out onto the battlefield after you've won.
Morale is the deciding factor of an adversary's effectiveness and efficacy. A demoralised enemy's personnel will give up, sleep, retreat, surrender, or defect, rather than fight. Troops with high morale are likely to fight with more aggression and enthusiasm for their cause. Morale is complex and difficult to maintain, but simple to destroy; even easier if you have embedded agents willing to help.
As War Theory goes:
"Morale will quickly deteriorate if members of the group perceive themselves as victims of injustice or indifference on part of their leadership, or they perceive their leadership as being acting ineptly, ignorantly, or for personal ambition."
A demoralised West has less ability to resist or inhibit an insurgent China from implementing its world domination plans.
China's fundamental program has been the ideological conversion of traditional Chinese culture to a living grave which rots under the dark cloud of totalitarian communism. They are experts in "re-educating" people into ideological submission.
The Soviets employed the value of "active measures" in their conquest of Asia. Nikita Khrushchev infamously boasted, "We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.”
Yuri Bezmenov, KGB defector, outlined the 4 stages of their process in 1983 according to his own experience in attempting the subversion of India:
"It's a great brainwashing process which goes very slow and is divided into four basic stages. The first one being "demoralization". It takes from 15 to 20 years to demoralize a nation. Why that many years? Because this is the minimum number of years required to educate one generation of students in the country of your enemy exposed to the ideology of [their] enemy. In other words, Marxism-Leninism ideology is being pumped into the soft heads of at least three generation of American students without being challenged or counterbalanced by the basic values of Americanism; American patriotism.... The result? The result you can see ... the people who graduated in the 60's, dropouts or half-baked intellectuals, are now occupying the positions of power in the government, civil service, business, mass media, and educational systems. You are stuck with them. You can't get through to them. They are contaminated. They are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli in a certain pattern [alluding to Pavlov]. You cannot change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information. Even if you prove that white is white and black is black, you still can not change the basic perception and the logic of behavior. In other words [for] these people the process of demoralization is complete and irreversible. To rid society of these people you need another 15 or 20 years to educate a new generation of patriotically minded and common sense people who would be acting in favor and in the interests of United States society."
"The demoralization process in the United States is basically completed already for the last 25 years. Actually, it's over fulfilled because demoralization now reaches such areas where not even Comrade Andropov and all his experts would even dream of such tremendous success. Most of it is done by Americans to Americans thanks to lack of moral standards. As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him, even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents and pictures. ...he will refuse to believe it.... That's the tragedy of the situation of demoralization."
Demoralisation isn't new; ideological bases and social media is. In days past, the means to resist such a program were routed in the mechanism of information delivery, which is now "democratised" and open to anyone - our enemies included.
What's most curious here is the mention of moral standards: a trope guaranteed to infuriate the 70s crowd with their hatred of the "oppression" of puritanical Christianity. However, when you consider the direction in which Russia and the ex-communist states are taking, it becomes apparent their understanding of the link between moral coherence and social stability is crucial to their past.
For example, not only has Russia instituted their "kill switch" for incoming Internet traffic as defensive cybersecurity, many of their other social movements are also in the complete opposite direction to our own. This year, while Western cultures legalise gay marriage, their constitution outright bans it: https://spectator.org/russia-ban-gay-marriage-lgbt-rights/.
Our enemies are banning the things they are encouraging in ours.
- China bans Twitter in its own country, but astroturfs it in the West;
- Russia causes chaos on social media, but locks down its own Internet connectivity;
- China promotes ideology contrary to Western liberalism through its institutes, but persecutes those spreading so-called "free speech ideology" in its own country.
Social media is a force multiplier for this strategy. A generation of obscure academics wasn't ever going to be of useful influence in countries where less than 35% of the population go to university, even more are only concerned with money, and the democratic system allows them to be so easily removed by the other 70%. Liberalism itself is a conflict management ecosystem designed to thrive on ideological difference by promoting the discrimination of ideas.
To destroy liberalism, you need to subvert its core idea: discrimination. The purpose of debate isn't to hear opposing views; it is to inform the participants in such a way they can eventually discriminate between the available options. By subverting the very definition of discrimination, you poison the process and outcome of reasoning. You make discrimination itself morally bad.
In America, Canada, and Australia, you pathologically associate discrimination with unfair racial prejudice: darker-skinned people against the white settlers.
In the UK, you pathologically associate discrimination with social class: the wealthy against the working class.
The issue is how you magnify the extremism of the few who sympathise with those views - the fringe - and take it to perceptible "boiling point" as if they were the false majority.
How Much Of This Cancel Outrage Is Illusion?
You have to ask, what if everything we are seeing on social media is a coordinated "outrage" machine deliberately "agitating" and "amplifying" a small vocal minority?
What is this entire "cancel culture" of thousands of outraged Twitterati and their fanatical need to enforce "correct" thinking with struggle sessions isn't real in the first place? 40 fringe activists re-tweet something preposterous, then 5000 CCP "personas" re-tweet it to amplify the chaos; 1000 personas deliberately set off an absurd conflict, prompting our lunatics to dogpile on to amplify it.
Then lazy journalists from failing media, needing to fill up space without a travel budget, sitting on computers all day, "report" on the alleged controversy - making it a national issue.
With enough numbers, you can create trends and activism, starting with a minuscule pool of native extremists, such as people "trained" and "overseen" by former members of a terrorist group which bombed Congress (https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/blm-co-founder-describes-herself-as-trained-marxist/) and a USSR-flag-carrying network of paramilitary cells concentrating in specific cities (https://townhall.com/tipsheet/bethbaumann/2020/06/06/watch-undercover-footage-shows-antifas-plans-and-training-used-to-incite-violence-n2570179).
Then you have to ask: what are the chances this level of agitation has spilled over to expand into real-world physical training and support for rioters inside well-financed front groups causing absolute chaos and disruption across Western cities while Hong Kong has been annexed?
The benefits to our enemies from internal division are obvious: distraction from their malevolent behaviour, a weakened ability to cohere and respond to inhibit them, and an intuitive advantage in pursuing their own strategy.
Isn't it going to be obvious to future generations that the Chinese Communist Party moved from ideologically converting its own population, to leveraging social media to convert ours?
Does it really require a conspiracy theory to state the obvious? That it's easier to get an enemy's disaffected ideologues working as your commandos behind enemy lines to start a civil war, than do it yourself?