Countering Chinese Misinformation: How to fight back against an army of Chinese bots
By Kai Suherwan
A war of information is being fought online and the People’s Republic of China has been on the offensive. Their goal is to discredit the United States and boost Chinese influence all over the world. While media outlets such as CGTN and Global Times peddle Chinese narratives through official channels, their state agents do the same in a more far-reaching and accessible way: an army of bots. The Centre for Information Resilience has revealed a network of fake accounts that push Chinese narratives. These bots divide Americans with partisan disinformation while glorifying the Chinese narrative. They do this by denying human rights abuses in Xinjiang and spreading fake news about controversial domestic issues in the U.S. This campaign is a direct threat to U.S. interests at home and abroad. At home, it aims to demoralize the U.S. population, influencing them with Chinese narratives that could lead to unrest. Abroad, Chinese influence could create anti-American sentiments among its allies and those neutral to the U.S., diminishing its sphere of influence. To counter this, the U.S. Government must impose regulations on social media companies that require them to police their sites aggressively. In order to keep within proposed regulations, social media companies can use modern tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to stop the spread of misinformation.
The U.S. Government must put pressure on social media companies to block propaganda and fake content on their sites. In an essay by Zann Isacson from the Lawfare Institute, she writes about how the government can restrict terrorist content from being spread online. This is because propaganda that comes from terror groups are measures that seek to undermine the U.S. and therefore Congress would be able to restrict content that comes from those groups. This same reasoning can be used in the case of Chinese propaganda, as their campaign aims to undermine U.S. legitimacy to its people and those abroad. This is a threat not only to domestic stability but also to interests overseas.
If this campaign of misinformation is left unchecked, it will give the CCP an upper hand in controlling the narrative in years to come. The early efforts of this have been seen with issues such as COVID-19, the Hong Kong Protests and human rights abuses in Xinjiang. They have been able to influence people into believing their narratives and in turn making them tools in their campaign of misinformation. To combat this threat effectively, the U.S. government needs to pass legislation that regulates social media companies and the content on their sites. As a disincentive, the U.S. government should use agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to impose fines on social media companies if they do not actively police their sites for misinformation.
In order for social media companies to police their own sites for content deemed to be Chinese propaganda, AI can be used to effectively moderate content on them. Chinese bots have already used AI and machine learning algorithms to further their misinformation campaign. Programs such as StyleGAN produce realistic portraits of people who do not exist. Chinese bots use these images in an effort to escape social media moderation as they are not able to be reversed image searched. With AI, social media companies will be able to fight back against these bots. AI is able to distinguish between computer and human-written text, it is also able to determine whether an image is real or synthetically produced. As humans have not been able to develop an AI that is capable of detecting 100% of fake content, a solution would be to use both AI and a human element in order to stop the spread of misinformation. AI would be used to flag posts/accounts and suspend them, they will then be looked at by content moderators who will do a final check to see if these accounts and posts should be banned from their sites. Technology like this will be able to better police social media sites to stop Chinese propaganda from being spread.
One can argue that these solutions are a violation of free speech. But they are simply not, as these solutions aim to counter a foreign propaganda campaign. This is a direct threat to the American democratic system from an authoritarian power that aims to subvert the U.S. Therefore it is right to censor this threat to the American way of life and U.S. interests abroad. Social media companies are also private companies that have control over who they allow to post and have already censored people they deem threats to democracy.
The U.S. has almost no regulations towards social media companies and the content that comes from their sites. Therefore is time for the government to implement regulations, such as fines, on social media companies that don’t actively stop the spread of misinformation and foreign propaganda. In order to be in accordance with these regulations, social media companies should use AI technology to police their sites and better moderate social media content. This campaign of disinformation seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S., and the delicate global order. Therefore those in power must do all that they can fight back against it.