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Chinese state media use SEO for disinformation

Researchers at the Brooking Institution and Alliance for Securing Democracy have found that Chinese state media are using targeted search engine optimization measures to place their content as prominently as possible abroad. YouTube and news searches are particularly affected.

Xinjiang and Covid-19

Among the key issues addressed by Chinese state media are Xinjiang and Covid-19, and researchers found numerous posts by China in both subject areas that landed high on Bing, Google and YouTube. For the search term Xinjiang, Chinese state media landed in the top 10 on Google and Bing in 88 percent of the test cases; on YouTube, that was the case in 98 percent of the tests.

The tests clearly showed that China focuses on news searches as well as on YouTube. Here, targeted SEO methods were used. In the normal search, on the other hand, contributions of China performed significantly worse and landed rather rarely on the top ranks.

Disinformation and opinion control

The goal of Chinese search engine optimization is obvious here: to influence opinion abroad. The two subject areas examined make this very clear. Under the search term Xinjiang, there are numerous contributions from Chinese media that are aimed specifically at a foreign audience and play down the internment of the Uyghurs. In Chinese contributions, for example, there is talk of training centers; in fact, however – as the recently leaked photos and documents also show – these are internment camps in which the prisoners are deprived of basic human rights without any reason.

Something similar can be observed in connection with Covid-19. Chinese contributions, which rank well, spread conspiracy theories here that propagate a laboratory origin of the virus in the USA or Japan. However, China’s disinformation is by no means limited to these two topics. For example, it could also be determined that Chinese contributions increasingly convey pro-Russian positions and were also optimized for related search queries.

China’s influence has been underestimated

Although China’s attempt to exert influence abroad has long been known, the researchers who investigated the use of SEO techniques by Chinese state media believe the extent of influence has been underestimated. In this regard, they point to the sheer volume of Chinese content on the one hand, and China’s cooperation with seemingly independent media and influencers on the other. For example, they were able to identify at least nineteen media outlets that are not officially connected to China but have taken over Chinese contributions verbatim and published them on their portals. These included, for example, the Helsinki Times.

Proposals for countermeasures

In addition to the analysis, the researchers also provided suggestions for countermeasures. Here, they referred primarily to the urgency of labeling on the part of search engines. For example, Google and Co could label state media as such and display them directly in search results. They also suggested that content taken from state media should be identified. In this way, state-produced contributions that appear on seemingly independent media could also be quickly identified as such.

In addition, they called for the provision of information about ranking decisions on state contributions. In this regard, they further pointed out the advantages of cooperation between different search engines: If information on government contributions were shared, resources could be pooled and thus more effective action could be taken.

Finally, they pointed out that independent media that deal with China and relevant topics should study SEO basics and thus ensure a better ranking of their uninfluenced contributions.

Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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Researchers at the Brooking Institution and Alliance for Securing Democracy have found that Chinese state media are using targeted search engine optimization measures to place their content as prominently as possible abroad. YouTube and news searches are particularly affected. Xinjiang and Covid-19 Among the key issues addressed by Chinese state media are Xinjiang and Covid-19, … (Weiterlesen...)

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