Australia urged to act on 'shadow' China online network

Australia is being urged to declassify information where it can about social-media influence operations, in response to a "shadow" network using artificial intelligence to push pro-China content.

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has found a coordinated influence campaign, which began on YouTube, is seeking to impact how English-speaking people view the roles of China and the US in international relations, the global economy and technology competition.

The campaign, dubbed "shadow play," uses AI to generate voice overs as a tactic to grow its reach.

It involves a network of at least 30 YouTube channels that have produced more than 4500 videos, garnering almost 120 million views and 730,000 subscribers since last year. 

"The campaign’s ability to amass and access such a large global audience—and its potential to covertly influence public opinion on these topics—should be cause for concern," the report reads.

They also include a focus on Chinese and US companies, creating content that is pro-Huawei and anti-Apple.

The report found the campaign focuses on promoting six narratives. 

Two of the most dominant ones are that China is "winning" in crucial areas of global competition, first in the "US–China tech war" and in the race for rare earths and critical minerals.

Recommendations for policymakers include Australia and its Five Eyes partners declassifying some open-source social-media-based influence operations, to share that information with regional partners. 

It says given many of Australia's regional partners such as Japan, South Korea and Pacific island countries are targets of influence operations and misinformation, increased detection of the content could strengthen democratic spaces on the internet.

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