How China uses search engines to spread propaganda

Blog by Jessica Brandt and Valerie Wirtschafter: “Users come to search engines seeking honest answers to their queries. On a wide range of issues—from personal health, to finance, to news—search engines are often the first stop for those looking to get information online. But as authoritarian states like China increasingly use online platforms to disseminate narratives aimed at weakening their democratic competitors, these search engines represent a crucial battleground in their information war with rivals. For Beijing, search engines represent a key—and underappreciated vector—to spread propaganda to audiences around the world.  

On a range of topics of geopolitical importance, Beijing has exploited search engine results to disseminate state-backed media that amplify the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda. As we demonstrate in our recent report, published by the Brookings Institution in collaboration with the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, users turning to search engines for information on Xinjiang, the site of the CCP’s egregious human rights abuses of the region’s Uyghur minority, or the origins of the coronavirus pandemic are surprisingly likely to encounter articles on these topics published by Chinese state-media outlets. By prominently surfacing this type of content, search engines may play a key role in Beijing’s effort to shape external perceptions, which makes it crucial that platforms—along with authoritative outlets that syndicate state-backed content without clear labeling—do more to address their role in spreading these narratives…(More)“.