Information Warfare Watch No. 13

Related Categories: Democracy and Governance; Islamic Extremism; Public Diplomacy and Information Operations; China; Middle East; East Asia

Officially, at least, China remains supportive of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. Quietly, however, it appears that the PRC's state media sources have shifted their position on the conflict - at least somewhat. Although they have taken care not to alienate Russian interests and continue to amplify Russian narratives, Chinese media sources have begun incorporating stories about issues such as the high material and human costs of the conflict. In late April, for instance, Chinese state news agency Xinhua transmitted an uncensored interview with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, allowing the Ukrainian foreign policy chief to argue that "Russia is jeopardizing Chinese leaders' Belt and Road Initiative." "This war is not in line with China's interests," Kuleba maintained. "The global food crisis and economic problems... will pose a serious threat to the Chinese economy."

Just how significant this shift is remains an open question, however. Chinese state news sources continue to call Russia's war by the preferred Kremlin terminology of a "special military operation." And elsewhere, "Chinese channels have pushed a Russian false claim that the United States runs dangerous bioweapons labs in Ukraine, have asserted that the bombing of a children's hospital in Mariupol and the extrajudicial killing of civilians in the town of Bucha were hoaxes, and have suggested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was being controlled by U.S. billionaire George Soros," Radio Free Europe has reported. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 3, 2022)

One of the principal responses to the global rise of China in recent years has been the formation of the "Quad," the security and political grouping bringing together the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The Quad is intended as a counterweight to Beijing's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region, and has shown considerable early promise as a strategic construct - and consequently drawn the attention of China's disinformation actors. "A subset of a pro–Chinese Communist Party network, known for disseminating disinformation on US-based social media platforms, is breaking away from its usual narratives in order to interfere in the Quad partnership of Australia, India, Japan and the United States and oppose Japanese plans to deploy missile units in southern Okinawa Prefecture," writes Albert Zhang for the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Citing research by ASPI's Cyber Policy Centre, Zhang notes that there are now "80 accounts — and counting — across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube that since December have posted in multiple languages opposing Japan's military activities and the Quad." The online effort - which mimics the behavior of previous CCP influence campaigns - "indicates that the CCP is concerned about the strengthening alignment between countries in Europe, NATO, Asia and the Indo-Pacific following the Russian invasion of Ukraine," Zhang writes. "Eroding alliances such as the Quad, AUKUS, ANZUS and NATO will remain the CCP's main strategic goal," he concludes. (ASPI Strategist, April 19, 2022)

The world's most notorious terrorist group, which pioneered the use of social media messaging to spread its extremist message during its rise to power in the Middle East nearly a decade ago, remains committed to shaping "hearts and minds" in the Muslim World. In the fifth issue of its English language magazine, Voice of Khurasan, ISIS argues that "social media warfare" represents a key part of its post-caliphate international strategy. The manipulation of media "is a necessity and is also urgent in order to propagate and cause defeatism and demoralization of the enemy, and show the strength of the mujahideen," the group lays out. "...Therefore the media and all its technologies must be used by the da'ees [callers to Islam] and mujahideen to spread fear into the hearts of the enemy and to terrify them so that they do not think to stand in front of the Muslims ever."

Media messaging, the group argues, is essential both for "demonstrating strength" as well as "spreading rumors to strike fear into the heart of the enemy." "If we can shake the chain of the enemy and divide them that is part of the war policy to divide them and defeat them," the article lays out. "...Spreading the rumors is therefore a duty upon the Muslim armies to cause fragmentation of the enemy because that disunity will demoralise them significantly." (Homeland Security Today, May 6, 2022)

Lebanon's terrorist powerhouse, Hezbollah, has a secret unit dedicated to waging "electronic" warfare against Israel, a new report from a respected Israeli research center has outlined. "The 'electronic army' operates on social networks against Hezbollah's opponents, promotes Hezbollah's narratives, conducts campaigns on various networks, influences the mindset of public opinion, and, if necessary, carries out cyberattacks on Hezbollah opponents," Tal Beeri writes in a report for the ALMA Research and Education Center, located in northern Israel.

The digital strategy employed by Hezbollah, Beeri outlines, is sophisticated and includes a sub-unit "in charge of creating Hezbollah's bot army of about 1,000 accounts and is used to promote Hezbollah's political goals." "The group also uses its expertise to report 'anti-Hezbollah' users to Facebook and Twitter, which in turn causes these... users to be blocked or removed from the network," Beeri writes. "The unit also operates various websites and Facebook pages that belong to Hezbollah and are widely distributed. In addition, the unit is also engaged in data security." (ALMA Research and Education Center, June 13, 2022)