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China’s Public Diplomacy Operations: Understanding Engagement and Inauthentic Amplification of PRC Diplomats on Facebook and Twitter

By Marcel Schliebs, Hannah Bailey, Jonathan Bright, and Philip N. Howard
Cover of China’s Public Diplomacy Operations: Understanding Engagement and Inauthentic Amplification of PRC Diplomats on Facebook and Twitter

As part of the strategy to ‘tell China’s story well’, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has significantly expanded its public diplomacy efforts. The PRC makes use of both state-controlled media outlets and over 270 diplomatic accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to amplify the PRC’s perspective on global affairs and current events.

To understand the structure and function of the PRC’s public diplomacy operations, this report analyses every tweet and Facebook post produced by PRC diplomats and ten of the largest state-controlled media outlets between June 2020 and February 2021. The authors find that PRC diplomats and state-backed media agencies are highly active on Twitter, with large numbers of accounts and tweets. Still, on Twitter only 14% of PRC diplomat Twitter accounts are labelled as government affiliated. PRC accounts receive lots of engagement, but a substantial proportion of this engagement is generated by rapid-fire “super-spreader” accounts. A significant share of these are eventually suspended for platform violations. Taken together, these data provide extensive evidence for where and how a powerful state actor like the PRC may be able to create an illusion of inflated influence over global discourse.

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Publication date:
May 2021

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