At a glance.
- Content and channel restrictions in China.
- Domestic political influence operations.
- Disinformation blowback?
Chinese policy with respect to content and the platforms that deliver it.
LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, has, the Wall Street Journal reports, shuttered its operations in China. The business-focused network was the last major American social platform to operate in China. “A significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China,” motivated the decision, LinkedIn said. It will replace its familiar service with a simple, non-interactive job board. WIRED sees the decision as amounting to the fall of one of the last major people-to-people bridges between China and the West.
Bloomberg reports that the Cyberspace Administration of China has "announced an approved list of some 1,300 domestic media outlets, social media accounts and government agencies, banning internet news providers from using anything else."
Specific kinds of content as well as platforms are also subject to restriction from Beijing. The BBC reports that Apple has been pressured to removed both Bible and Koran apps from its store. Apple frames the move as a matter of compliance with Chinese law.
How a domestic influence campaign may have functioned in the 2016 US elections.
Ars Technica describes a political influence campaign that ran in 2015 and 2016 to the general advantage of then-candidate Donald Trump. Ars, which has taken some pains to be transparent with respect to its sources, based its account on an interview with the marketing operator who says he ran the effort. For two years, he ran websites and Facebook groups that spread bogus stories, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. Under him was a dedicated team of writers and editors paid to produce deceptive content—from outright hoaxes to political propaganda."
The man who says he was one of the principal operators behind the campaign, Robert Willis, describes his motivation: "I hated the establishment, Republicans, and Democrats, and Hillary was the target because she was as establishment as it got and was the only candidate that was all but guaranteed to be running on the main ticket in the future 2016 cycle. If I were to choose a lesser evil at the time, it would have, without a doubt, been the Republican Party, since I had moved to the new city due to the Democrats literally destroying my previous home state. It felt like good revenge."
The discussion is an interesting description of a content farm. The key to the operation's success seems to have been the system of reinforcement and repetition, as if Wittgenstein's famous reductio from the Philosophical Investigations had come to govern public discourse: we're buying a second copy of a newspaper to assure ourselves that what we saw in the first copy was true. Again, Ars Technica has gone to unusual lengths, including some self-criticism, to show how the story was investigated and reported. They're particularly interested in explaining why what they've published isn't a "puff piece" on Mr. Willis, who, they say, clearly had a high opinion of how effective the network he built was. But the effects of repetition and amplification, and the importance of influencers, are lessons in content farming worth taking into account.
The risk of believing your own press releases (especially if you've faked them).
Russian scientific competition with the West (a competition with a long history that extends beyond the Sputnik program World Politics Review mentions) may be backfiring in the case of the national response to COVID-19. "Russia developed the first coronavirus vaccine, and it reopened its economy before many others. Now, however, as global deaths due to COVID-19 reach their lowest levels in a year, the trend is going in the opposite direction in Russia. In fact, the pandemic response has all but gone off the rails, with a record number of deaths, hospitals straining to keep up and, astonishingly, less than one third of the Russian population vaccinated," an essay in World Politics Review says. Some responsibility for the backsliding appears to lie with the unintended effect of the propaganda on a complex domestic audience.