A new study claims to have unmasked a state-sponsored social media campaign in China that's responsible for nearly a half-billion social media comments.
The report PDF from Harvard University suggests that a group of users acting at the behest of the Chinese government uses the comments to influence discussion of topics that could be critical of the state.
In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues," say report authors Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts.
"We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to regularly distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime."
Those posts, in turn, act as an extension of China's propaganda operations by distracting from critical posts and thwarting organizing efforts not backed by the state.
Rather, the researchers find, the government is using more subtle tactics to undermine those who would criticize its policies.