KEY POINTS

  • China recently invited 450 Taiwanese, including influencers, for a meet
  • A pro-Chinese Taiwanese TikToker was found to be living in China 
  • He had claimed that he was in Ukraine and posted a pro-China video 

China is paying Taiwanese social media influencers to spread Chinese propaganda and fake news as part of its "cognitive warfare" against the island, Taiwan's National Security Bureau (NSB) director-general Chen Ming-tong has said.

Chen was reacting to reports about the recent 'Cross-Strait Youth Development Forum' held in China, where Taiwanese internet celebrities were invited. The meeting was organized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and had around 450 individuals, including minor celebrities and influencers, in attendance. 

Chen said that one such case of bribing happened in early March following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A Taiwanese TikToker, who claimed he was in Ukraine, said the Chinese government was offering to evacuate Taiwanese caught up in Ukraine. However, the NSB later found out he was actually in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, and was working with China "on a concerted cognitive warfare campaign against Taiwan," reported Taiwan News. 

Chen said the CCP was training him to use social media to spread propaganda as part of its "united front" efforts against Taiwan. Chen added that NBS had a full grasp on such "cognitive warfare" campaigns and that the related authorities were investigating.

Not just him, many other Taiwanese influencers too were hired to spread "false information" to influence young Taiwanese on media platforms, such as TikTok and Little Red Book, also known as Xiaohongshu, the Chinese equivalent of Instagram. Several short films favoring Chinese propaganda were also doing the rounds on the internet.

Local Taiwanese media reports, quoting Democratic Progressive Party legislator Lin Chuyin, said while China focused on Taiwanese businessmen and artists for cognitive warfare, now it was using internet celebrities. Chuyin also called on Taiwan's government to take measures to counter these efforts. 

Recently, a local internet celebrity Li Qiao-xin had courted controversy when she encouraged the Taiwanese to visit the "motherland" and spread positive news about China. She also made a YouTube video where she said, "only by abandoning prejudices can we embrace opportunities." Li added that she had no regrets about joining China and would continue to expand her influence in conjunction with Taiwanese and Korean broadcasters.

There were also reports that many foreigners were being hired by the CCP to defend Beijing. These influencers were said to be making YouTube videos "debunking" allegations of human rights abuses and posting diatribes on Western "conspiracies" against China. They included teachers and business owners from the U.K., Colombia and Singapore, who posts video takedowns of what they say are unfair accusations against Beijing. 

The money available for so-called "kid influencers" has raised fears of pushy parents encouraging their offspring to spend more time posting online than pursuing their education. Representation. Photo: AFP / LIONEL BONAVENTURE