Clusters of new social media profiles emerge and interact with long-dormant accounts, seemingly exchanging viewpoints from across the American political spectrum.
Some sport American flags for profile pictures; others have images of beautiful women. Almost all are anonymous, though some impersonate real people.
In tweets and posts and messages they spread their views. Some stridently defend a woman’s right to have an abortion, others the right to life. Some defend the second amendment, others vehemently champion Black Lives Matter. Some claim that the United States is descending into a leftist tyranny. Still more say it’s headed toward fascism.
Above all, they post memes disparaging the United States’ political parties and governmental institutions. Here one finds a meme of President Joe Biden with a caption excoriating the Build Back Better slogan. Here one finds a meme of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) insinuating that the lawmaker has financial ties with Putin’s Russia.
It would be easy to conclude that these clusters of accounts are a perfect representation of the political polarization that has seized the United States in recent years. But it would be wrong.
None of these accounts are operated by Americans.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, is increasingly manipulating what Americans see and believe by sowing discord and rancor on social media. Such influence operations, far from being mere propaganda, are deployed in the pursuit of the CCP’s greater strategic ambition of undermining and displacing the United States as leader of the international order.
To be sure, the CCP’s ambition of replacing the democratic West with a Sino-centric authoritarianism is not new. But the methods that the regime is employing in its overseas influence operations are.
According to the testimony of security experts, lawmakers, and numerous reports, the CCP is adapting its strategy for psychological warfare against the weaknesses of open societies, and it is evolving its influence campaigns from corny propaganda about the glory of communism into subtler, more insidious disinformation campaigns intended to make Americans give up on their own country.