Vica Li describes herself as a “life blogger” and “food lover” who wants to teach her 1.4 million TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook followers about China so they may tour the country with ease.
“Through my lens, I’ll take you across China, into Vica’s life!” she says in a video posted to her YouTube and Facebook pages in January, where she also gives Chinese classes via Zoom.
However, that lens could be controlled by CGTN, China’s state-run television network, where she has routinely appeared in broadcasts and is listed on the company’s website as a digital reporter. Vica Li claims to have “made all of these channels on my own,” but her Facebook page proves otherwise.
According to an Associated Press investigation, that portfolio of identities is only one tentacle of China’s fast-rising influence on US-owned social media sites.
China is exploiting the global social media ecosystem to enhance its already massive influence as it seeks to establish its economic dominance. The country has quietly built a network of social media personalities who promote China’s virtues, deflect international criticism of its human rights abuses, and advance Beijing’s talking points on world affairs such as Russia’s war against the United States in posts seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
Beijing can easily spread propaganda to unwitting Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube users all across the world thanks to the influencer network. According to Miburo, a service that tracks foreign disinformation efforts, at least 200 influencers with ties to the Chinese government or official media are active in 38 different languages.