The latest investigation report released by Mandiant on Thursday, August 4, reveals that a Chinese public relations firm hosted at least 72 fake news websites and social media users in 11 languages to push China’s government talking points.
Mandiant said those are part of a propaganda attempt to “spread content strategically aligned with the political interests of China.” The campaign focused on political enemies of the Chinese government, the Xinjiang region and criticism of the U.S.
NBC visited English version sites and found they have no specific author or ownership. Most of the article’s content mainly criticizes the U.S and the West and also tries to dispel the concerns of the outside world about such issues as Hong Kong’s democracy, Uyghur human rights, or other disputes.
According to the report, the websites present themselves as U.S. news outlets, using Chinese code to build. A Chinese Company, Shanghai Haixun Technology, hosted these sites on internet infrastructure.
According to Shanghai Haixun’s website, the company offers Chinese clients the opportunity to publish their content on News sites in more than 40 languages in 140 countries. It boasts that it’s got clients in English-language news outlets like The Associated Press and Reuters.
However, the report points out that many of China’s propaganda actions to distort information show no or little effect.
Dakota Cary, a China analyst at cybersecurity Company Krebs-Stamos Group, says that the fake sites discovered in the Mandiant report turned out to be a clumsy attempt by a pro-China group to control the Western conversation.
He adds, “The campaign observed by Mandiant is another example of how China is unable to influence cultural narratives with inauthentic accounts and forged documents.”
In one instance in 2021, a Twitter user, linked to the campaign, nicknamed “Jonas Drosten”, posted fabricated letters to smear anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who is known for publishing significant research on China’s Treatment of Uyghurs.
A Twitter spokesperson told NBC that several accounts related to fake news have been closed but denied sharing the details.
Spokespeople for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation confirmed that the letters were forged. However, the Chinese state-sponsored English news China Daily wrote an article treating them as authentic in May. Neither China Daily nor the author of that article, Mark Pinkstone, responded to requests for comment.
In a telephone interview with NBC, Zenz said that he is accustomed to being criticized by China for his research work, but the method of publishing forged documents through fake news websites to launch criticism is unprecedented because some people could believe it.