China Uses SEO to Propaganda Tools, Claims Study
According to a new report, the Chinese government influences search results for certain keywords that relate to Uyghur Muslims and Covid-19.
Search Engine Optimization is a popular tool and discipline that companies use to drive more visitors to their sites. There are many SEO features available from website builders, which can be found on a long list.
It’s not often that SEO is used to gain geopolitical benefits. Google’s global reach makes it easy to see how one of the most powerful countries in the world has used it to help disseminate information.
China’s Search Engine Soft Power
The study was done by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (Bostonings Institution) and the Alliance for Securing Democracy (Alliance for Securing Democracy). It collected 120 days of data from Google Search Search, Google News and Bing Search.
It centered on searches relating to Covid-19, and the Xinjiang area of China, which are both points of geopolitical contention by Xi Jinping’s side.
“Beijing has been very focused on positioning itself as a responsible global leadership and softening perceptions towards the contrary.” – Winning web: How Beijing exploits search result to shape views of Xinjiang, COVID-19.
The country has been criticised for not handling the initial outbreaks of Covid-19, which caused havoc throughout the world. They also committed a series of human rights abuses – along with genocide – against local Muslim Uyghur populations in the Xinjiang.
According to the report, Beijing is “focused upon positioning itself as a responsible global leader” and softening the perceptions to the contrary.
Beijing-Backed Media Floods Results
For the term “Xinjiang”, a Chinese state supported news publication was among the first 10 results. This result appeared in 88% search results. The search took place on 106/120 day.
YouTube also showed that Chinese state institutions were among the top 10 search results in 98% (118/120) of all searches.
The research team found that Google/Bing News/Youtube Search was more likely to provide state-backed propaganda pieces than Google/Bing Search.
Searches of “Fort Detrick”, the Chinese-promoted conspiracy theory suggesting that the epicenter for the Covid-19 pandemic is a US military base, often lead to content from sites backed Beijing. We found “619 observations of videos of Chinese state media outlets appearing among the top 10 search results (or about five per day) during our study.”
Interestingly, the research team discovered that News Search and YouTube Search were more likely return state-backed propaganda pieces to them than Google Search or Bing Search.
The researchers found that Chinese state media accounted approximately 22% and 25% of the observed pages in search results related to Xinjiang. They also revealed the origins for the coronavirus, which was seen on YouTube searches and news.
By comparison, Google Search and Bing Search had just 6%.
Search Engines can do anything to stop China exploiting SEO.
It’s complicated. CNET spokeswoman Ned Adriance told CNET that Google is trying to fight coordinated influence and other censorship operations. Microsoft is also reportedly reviewing these findings.
Evidence supports this assertion. A report indicates that China appears less able search results for Covid-19. This could be due to the fact Google and other search engines have spent much of their time moderating related content.
The report points out that searches for Covid-19 in China seem less likely to be affected by search engines like Google. This could be due to the fact Google has spent a lot of time moderating related material.
However, the report mentions that China’s complicated web of influencer and content hosting makes it difficult to discern what’s coming from Beijing.
“Chinese state media content verbatim” was republished verbatim by at least 19 sources, including the Alliance for Securing Democracy and Brookings Institution.
Included content would raise the amount of state-backed material returned in search result by 10 percentage points.
The Helsinki Times has around 370,000 monthly visitors. This is an interesting example. It began publishing articles directly from China’s People’s Daily in 2020 and 2021 in an alleged effort to combat “Western Bias”.
SEO: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
SEO is an important concept for business. Many websites that sell or review products have SEO professionals who make sure that the website’s quality content rises to the top in Google searches.
SEO is such an important topic that even the cheapest website builders offer SEO tools
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However, as with all useful things, it is possible to use it for malicious purposes such as “Blackhat” SEO, or Negative (or Blackhat) SEO. This is the practice of intentionally trying to push down rankings by using malicious tactics.
One would be scraping the entire content of competitor’s websites and republishing it on a different domain.
These are just a few examples of China using search engines optimization techniques to influence Western public opinions.
It could be a powerful tool for governments to mold the views of the masses in the future if search engine moderation technology allows such content to slip through.