The Chinese government has battled with a bad public image since the dawn of democracy. However, unlike many other countries in the same position, this government has the means to control the media. This is often done through censorships, outright bans on websites like Facebook, and almost complete control of the press. A recent Harvard study shows that China has also employed government workers posting its agenda online.
These posts attempt shifting the focus from negative headlines to more positive highlights in China. Posted by Chinese citizens, this creates a vastly different picture of China than the truth might paint. The study estimates in one year, the Chinese government planted more than 480 million fake social media posts to influence public opinion.
Did it Work?
The effectiveness of these posts is difficult to measure since they successfully drowned out the roar of negative criticism of China and its government. This makes it impossible to compare the effects of the crisis with the effects of a resolution – as the crisis never truly struck. However, this shows how effective the posts were at keeping a bigger catastrophe at bay.
While China’s government did not obtain a benevolent image as a result of the posts, it kept China out of mainstream news and sheltered the government from bad publicity – for a time.
So did it work? The answer is yes.
Why Did People Believe It?
People believed these posts for a number of reasons. First, it came from an authoritative source. Though government workers are employed by the state, people often view their social media posts as more honest and personal insights into how they feel about their work or their country.
People also increasingly believe what they see, read, and hear – even when they know better. The media comprises a big part of our perception of reality whether we get our news from Twitter or an old tube TV. Once people hear of China’s achievements 480 million times, it becomes difficult to see these claims as false.
Now that the Harvard researchers exposed the actions of the Chinese Government, public opinion will change again – and not in their favor. The deceitful way China maintained a relatively positive image breeds further distrust of not just the government, but now the workers as well. This makes it difficult for workers to be trusted again.
However, no matter what the rest of the world knows about these happenings, people living in China may not learn the truth. The Chinese government has not censored the research page, but with increased exposure this might change before the team can translate it to Chinese. So, the government would succeed in keeping Chinese residents in ignorance for a time.