Tuesday, April 23

Social media influencers & threats for National Security

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The Indian security establishment has zeroed in on over a dozen Indian social media influencers and vloggers who have allegedly been peddling Chinese government narratives, with grave implications for the country’s national security. A national media house has exclusively learnt that a comprehensive list made by China watchers in South Block, and based on intelligence inputs and regular monitoring of these influencers’ activities and social media posts, is now being shared with the Union government for action.

The security establishment is apprehensive that these influencers, allegedly motivated by financial gains, could pose a serious risk by contributing to a manipulative ecosystem run by Chinese state agencies. They have massive following—some in millions—among youngsters, so their posts matter a lot in shaping public opinion, which is why the urgency of addressing the threat.

Officials believe it is all part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strategy of using foreign social media influencers in adversary countries like India to shape and disseminate ‘preferred’ narratives domestically and internationally. And it is aimed at debunking media reporting and academic research and refuting statements by foreign governments.

According to sources in the security establishment, the emerging Chinese propaganda using Indian social media influencers (including YouTubers) threatens to condition how certain segments of the Indian population perceive China and its policies. Security establishment sources maintain that while some vloggers genuinely aim to foster cross-cultural understanding, others play into the hands of the Chinese propaganda machinery.

The stereotypes propagated often perpetuate a highly superficial and simplified view of Indian life and reinforce the preconceived notions that the Chinese public holds about Indians. “Given their substantial following across multiple social media platforms, these influencers have the ability to shape narratives that could have implications for national security, particularly if they propagate misinformation or biased perspectives,” said a South Block official, who did not wish to be named.

Indian security officials have figured out that the intricacy lies in the sponsorship arrangement, wherein the suspect vloggers’ expenses are covered by China and they are also granted access to restricted areas like Xinjiang and Tibet. The content produced by the YouTubers primarily focuses on pro-China narratives, including refuting the genocide allegations in Uyghur (in Xinjiang), besides also projecting a positive view of Chinese governance in Xinjiang and Tibet.

By showcasing these areas positively, the Indian vloggers help China counter Western perspectives. A similar trend was also observed among foreign influencers active on western social media platforms. According to a report prepared by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, since 2020, 156 Chinese state-controlled accounts on US-based social media platforms have published at least 556 Facebook posts, Twitter posts and articles on China Global Television Network (CGTN), Global Times, Xinhua news agency and China Daily websites, amplifying Xinjiang-related social media content from 14 influencer accounts.

According to security establishment sources, for instance, one of the suspect Indian vloggers explores various regions, including Xinjiang, Beijing, Shanghai and Hotan (under which Aksai Chin falls). The vlogger covers diverse topics, such as the extremely rural life of the Uyghur Chinese, visits to Uyghur mosques and interactions with local communities, including Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans. The titles of the videos often use attention-grabbing words like “shocking” and “surprising”. The videos suggest good infrastructure and governance in the regions the vlogger visits, particularly Xinjiang, under CPC. This situation highlights significant concerns regarding the influence wielded by compromised Indian YouTubers. The security establishment believes that only by constantly scrutinising the content produced by them can India’s national interests be safeguarded and integrity of information disseminated in the public domain maintained.

 

 

The author is Senior Editor at India Today Magazine (India Today Group publication) and writes on issues of Indian defence and strategic affairs.

 

 

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