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Comment Icon0 The Chinese government has been infamous for numerous reported accounts of its online propaganda and surveillance, ranging from the propagation of passive informational websites to dis-inform the public, to more sophisticated hacking of Internet communication services belonging to dissidents as well as foreign governments. In “You’ve Got Dissent!” (2002), researchers Michael Chase and James Mulvenon organized these deceptive practices into three types of online propaganda: Denial; Passive Disinformation; and Active Disinformation. On a more offensive approach, the Chinese government has also been suspected of employing hackers to infiltrate dissident computer systems outside of China, to gather information and disrupt communication services.

Comment Icon0 As postulated by Sigmund Freud and elaborated by his daughter in 1936, denial is a defence mechanism in which an entity that is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept would reject it instead, by insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. As the first defensive tactic, denial by the Chinese government is achieved indirectly through the circulation of information that appears factual or widespread. In other words, the PRC government does not have to directly deny allegations of human rights abuse, since they are able to craft their online environment to keep the appearance of minimal transgression. In October 1998, the Chinese Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) launched its bilingual website at HumanRights-China.org (English) and HumanRights.cn (Chinese) to promote Beijing’s official line on the subject, as well as to deny allegations of Chinese human rights abuses alleged by non-governmental organizations. The site publishes government documents in Chinese and English, including articles from the state-run media, legislation and lectures from a symposium on human rights that Beijing hosted (“China: We’re Only Human,” 1998).

Comment Icon0 While the website appears to be academically credible, the Chinese Society for Human Rights Studies and its bilingual website are actually managed by the PRC government (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Making this point explicitly clear, a U.S.-based hacker vandalized the newly released human rights website and left critical remarks about the blatant Chinese propaganda. The hacktivist, a portmanteau of the words hacker and activist, altered the Chinese website to display the words “Boycott China”, followed by the statement, “I simply cannot believe the total (expletive) propaganda on this website. China’s people have no rights at all, never mind human rights. I really can’t believe our government deals with them. They censor, murder, torture, maim, and do everything we (thought) had left the earth with the middle ages”. The statement ended with links to critics of China’s communist regime, including the human rights group Amnesty International (CNN, 1998). The defaced CSHRS website was eventually blocked by China’s cyber-police who left it partially accessible to users in China, apparently to prevent the nation’s online users from catching a glimpse of the critical messages.

Comment Icon0 The second deceptive tactic involves passive disinformation, which refers to the proliferation of information that is aimed at discrediting targeted parties. The PRC government would discreetly use websites that appear bi-partisan as vehicles for supporting the government’s stance on various controversial issues. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) has a sub-domain of its website dedicated to the combating of cults, by highlighting these cults’ malicious activities and intentions. Entitled “Unmask Cults”, the website was originally opened at xjjp.cass.net.cn, and was reportedly co-sponsored by the Falungong Study Office, Computer Internet Center and China’s History and Culture Information Project under CASS. Six programs with 250 webpages and 540,000 Chinese characters were presented on “Unmask Cult”, which included “Marxist World Outlook, Outlook on Life and Values”, “Materialist, Atheist Education Textbook”, “An Analysis of Falungong”, “Evils Done in Broad Daylight: Look into World Heretics”, “Seven Major Cults in the World” and “The True Feature of Falungong” (People’s Daily, 2000). Interestingly, the anti-Falungong content has a similar tone to the overall anti-Falungong propaganda campaign that the Chinese government has relentlessly waged since August 1999 (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). In May 2000, CASS claimed that the website had received over 500,000 hits (People’s Daily, 2000).

Comment Icon0 Given the Chinese government’s power and general anonymity over the Internet media, the option to be a powerful online cyber-bully comes rather easy. The third deceptive tactic employed by the PRC involves active disinformation, which includes online harassment and character assassination. After the suppression of the CDP in late November 1998, Frank Siqing Lu claimed that public security offices used the names of local dissidents to page him and leave return numbers that were either non-existent or numbers for hotels, karaoke bars and hospitals. Public security officials also allegedly bombarded his fax machine with large numbers of blank pages (Pao, 1999; FBIS, January 1999). On 28 February 2002, a Falungong practitioner in Beijing received an email from editor@minghui.ca, which is the address of one of the main Falungong sites based in Canada. Upon closer inspection, the email message was found to be fake, since the email header revealed that the message actually originated from IP address 202.106.227.134, which traced it back to Beijing, not Canada (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). In October 1999, prominent Chinese Democracy Movement activist, Wei Jingsheng, told a Taiwanese news agency that the Beijing government is using the Internet to spread rumours intended to “sow seeds of discord” among organizations of mainland Chinese dissidents (Taiwan Central News Agency, 1999). While the Chinese government has also tried spreading rumours of government agents amongst the overseas dissident community, the community seems to be aware of the government’s intent at dividing the already fragmented movement (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002).

Comment Icon0 To enhance each of these three tactics, the Chinese government is known to use a combination of tactics as observed in the BBS and discussion boards. The use of the “Fifty Cent Party”, the Chinese Communist Party’s private army of web commentators, has been effective for various forms of denial and disinformation online. These CCP supporters are trained and financed by the party organization to safeguard the interests of the CCP by policing the rapidly growing Chinese Internet community, complementing the limited potential of the Chinese Internet Police in the face of a country with about 338 million Internet users (CNNIC, 2009).

Chapter 6.1.8 – Online Deception

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