An initiative by the Chinese Communist Party looks to employ the aid of online influencers across the web to assist the United Front Work Department in spreading the party’s message, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.
“We need to build an online personnel team, to guide them to play an active role in leading public opinion and other areas. We will work hard to surround them by the Communist Party’s side, to concentrate the wisdom and power for achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese people and the Chinese dream,” said You Quan, head of the UFWD, in support of the measure.
This department’s original intention was to help the party work with elites outside its sphere of influence around the globe.
However, political commentator Sonny Lo Shiu-hing suggests that although this isn’t a surprising move as the Chinese Communist Party wants to exert control over media, it’s probably not going to yield any remarkable results.
“In the era of globalization, people can receive all kinds of information and so I don’t think such online united front work can or will be influential. The audiences are not necessarily absorbing what [influencers] say because on the internet the watching time per person is quite short in general, especially for these political propaganda messages, and the impact will be limited,” Sonny said.
China’s recent interest in trying to influence public discourse through western media has been a concern during the last few years, with Tik Tok being the latest network to fall under scrutiny.
A New York Times report from earlier this month highlighted the concerns that the US government had with TikTok being used as a tool for foreign influence. However, the app’s China-based developer quickly replied to this with a statement to the newspaper assuring that the social network does not censor political material, insisting that posts favoring the Hong Kong protests have not been removed.
As Western countries apply pressure to China and its homegrown tech companies, it may become even more difficult for the country to be effective in its own attempts to reach out to influencers.