August 16, 2022

In this photo illustration, the flag of the People’s Republic of China is displayed on a smartphone screen on July 25, 2022. A Chinese marketing company hosted an episode of at least 72 fake news sites in 11 languages ​​with corresponding fake social media personalities The Chinese government pushed talking points according to published research Thursday.

Badrul Shkorot | Light Rocket | Getty Images

A Chinese marketing company hosted an episode of at least 72 fake news sites in 11 languages ​​with interview fake social media personalities that prompted talking points for the Chinese government, according to Research Posted Thursday.

NBC News viewed the English-language sites, obscuring their ownership and authors. Their articles often criticized the United States and the West, and seemed to try to allay concerns in those countries, such as China. Limiting democracy in Hong Kong And the Placement of Uyghurs in Concentration Camps.

According to Mandiant, which produced the report, the sites were hosted on an internet infrastructure owned by a Chinese marketing company, Shanghai Haixun Technology.

It is not clear who would have organized the campaign, and neither a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington nor Shanghai Hixun Technology responded to requests for comment. According to Shanghai Haixun’s websiteThe company offers clients in China the opportunity to publish their talking points on news sites in more than 40 languages ​​and in more than 140 countries, and is proud to have had clients covered in English-language news outlets such as The Associated Press and Reuters.

The report adds to a growing list of Examples From Disinformation operations attributed to ChinaMany of them failed to gain significant traction. Dakota Carey, a China analyst at Krebs Stamos Group, a cybersecurity firm, said the news sites episode appeared to be a clumsy attempt by a pro-China group to influence Western talks.

“The crackdown observed by Mandiant is another example of how China is unable to influence cultural narratives with incorrect accounts and forged documents,” said Carey, who was not involved in Mandiant’s research.

In at least one case, the campaign appears to have taken advantage of forged letters to discredit the anthropologist, Adrian Zenz, who published important research On China’s Treatment of the Uyghurs.

The messages first appeared online in December, when photos of them were posted via the Twitter account of a person named Jonas Drosten. This account has since been suspended, although Google has a file Cached From the account that is still visible.

A Twitter spokesperson told NBC News that it had suspended several accounts linked to the campaign, but declined to share details.

All three letters relate to the Commemorative Victims of Communism Foundation, the Washington think tank where Zenz works. The first, allegedly from the office of Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, thanks Zenz and appears to have linked him to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, referred to simply as “Bannon.” The other two appear to be evidence that the foundation paid Zenz more than half a million dollars for his research.

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Spokespeople for Rubio’s office and the foundation confirmed to NBC News that the messages were fake. However, they have been treated as original in many articles about Zenz in the Shanghai Haixun news episode. China Daily, the country’s main state-sponsored English news outlet, too wrote an article Treat it as original in May. Neither the China Daily nor the author of this article, Mark Pinkston, responded to requests for comment.

The use of fake US government letters and fake social media profiles echoes a previous information operation by another cybersecurity company, Recorded Future, Attributed to Russia. In that campaign, the fake messages appeared designed to undermine support for NATO, the US-led military alliance.

Zenz is a common goal of Chinese officials. Last year, the propaganda chief of the Communist Party of China, Xu Juexiang, held a party Press Conference Dedicated to trying to discredit him.

Zenz told NBC News that while he used to receive criticism from China for his work, this is the most detailed effort to date.

“I’ve been subjected to a lot of smear campaigns,” Zenz said in a phone call. “This picture seemed somewhat more complicated because it tried to build a credible argument, with connections, using even forged documents, to try to build a narrative that some people could believe.”

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