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中国争夺推特话语权:支持者行为可疑,或为“水军”

Behind China’s Twitter Campaign, a Murky Supporting Chorus

RAYMOND ZHONG, AARON KROLIK, 孟建国, RONEN BERGMAN, 黄安伟
Yifan Wu
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As the Trump administration lashes out at China over a range of grievances, Beijing’s top diplomats and representatives are using the president’s favorite online megaphone — Twitter — to slap back with a pugnaciousness that is best described as Trumpian.
随着特朗普政府就一系列不满对中国发起猛烈抨击,北京的高级外交官和代表正在利用总统最钟爱的网络喇叭——Twitter——进行咄咄逼人的特朗普式回击。
Behind China’s combative new messengers, a murky hallelujah chorus of sympathetic accounts has emerged to repost them and cheer them on. Many are new to the platform. Some do little else but amplify the Beijing line.
在中国这几位斗志昂扬的新信使背后,一群支持其观点的可疑帐号犹如颂歌唱诗班一样,为他们转发并加油打气。许多是新用户。有些人除了为北京造势以外,不发别的内容。
No doubt some of these accounts are run by patriotic, tech-savvy Chinese people who get around their government’s ban on Twitter and other Western platforms. But an analysis by The New York Times found that many of the accounts behaved with a single-mindedness that could suggest a coordinated campaign of the type that nation states have carried out on Twitter in the past.
毫无疑问,有些帐号属于爱国又精通技术的中国人,他们绕开了政府对Twitter和其他西方平台的封锁。但是《纽约时报》通过分析发现,其中许多帐号的行为都很专注,流露出民族国家过去在Twitter上开展的那种有组织运动的蛛丝马迹。

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Of the roughly 4,600 accounts that reposted China’s leading envoys and state-run news outlets during a recent week, many acted suspiciously, The Times found. One in six tweeted with extremely high frequency despite having few followers, as if they were being used as loudspeakers, not as sharing platforms.
《纽约时报》发现,在最近的一周内,大约有4600个帐号转发了中国主要驻外使节和官方新闻机构的帖子,其中许多帐号的行为令人生疑。有六分之一的帐号虽然关注者很少,但发推频率却很高,像是被当作扬声器使用,而不是分享平台。
Nearly one in seven tweeted almost nothing of their own, instead filling their feeds with reposts of the official Chinese accounts and others.
几乎七分之一的帐号几乎没有发过自己的推文,时间线上全是对中国官方帐号和其他人推文的转发。
In all, one third of the accounts had been created in the last three months, as the war of words with the Trump administration heated up. One in seven had zero followers.
随着与特朗普政府的口水战加剧,所有这些帐号中有三分之一是在过去三个月注册的。七分之一的帐号没有一个关注者。
The United States and China are battling to dominate the global narrative. China was criticized for its early mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, but it has regained confidence as other countries have made their own stumbles. With the United States in turmoil, upended first by the epidemic and now by protests, Beijing sees a chance to define itself as a global leader, one unafraid to press its interests in Hong Kong and the region.
美国和中国正在争夺全球叙事的主导地位。中国因早期对新冠病毒疫情的处理不当而受到批评,但随着其他国家陷入困境,它重拾信心。随着美国陷入动荡——首先是新冠疫情,现在又爆发抗议活动——北京看到了一个将自己定义为全球领导者的机会,不怯于在香港地区推进自己的议程
中国因其对新冠病毒疫情的早期处理不当而受到批评,但随着其他国家陷入困境,它重新获得了信心。
中国因其对新冠病毒疫情的早期处理不当而受到批评,但随着其他国家陷入困境,它重新获得了信心。 Getty Images
It is far from clear that the Chinese government is behind the swarms of accounts helping to spread its gospel on Twitter. Online information campaigns are becoming increasingly sophisticated as malicious actors get better at disguising their digital activity, security experts say. They now rarely make telltale mistakes such as using social media accounts that were all created on the same day, follow one another and post the same material.
到目前为止,尚不清楚中国政府是否是Twitter上这一大批吹捧帐号的幕后主使。安全专家表示,随着恶意用户越来越善于掩饰他们的数字活动,网络信息战变得越来越复杂。现在,他们很少犯明显的错误,例如在同一天创建许多社交媒体帐号,让它们互相关注并发布相同内容。
Campaigns are often uncovered one small piece at a time. Twitter has declared operations to be state-backed after identifying as few as six accounts.
这种网络信息战往往是通过一点点慢慢被发现的。Twitter曾经仅在发现六个可疑帐号后便宣称它们是由政府支持的行动。
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Much is unknown about China’s covert influence activities in particular. Twitter last year suspended more than 200,000 accounts that it called a Chinese state-backed operation aimed at discrediting Hong Kong’s protesters, though it said little about how it came to that conclusion.
至于中国秘密的影响力宣传如何运转,还鲜为人知。去年,Twitter暂停了超过20万个帐号,称它们是中国政府支持的,旨在抹黑香港示威者的行动,然而它对得出这一结论的方式没有多做说明。
Still, The Times’s findings add to other recent evidence suggesting that Twitter is being manipulated to amplify pro-Beijing messages. Next Dim, a data firm in Israel, discovered two mundane-looking tweets praising China’s coronavirus response that were liked and reposted hundreds of thousands of times in March, possibly with the help of strategically placed influencer accounts.
尽管如此,《纽约时报》的发现和其他最新证据表明,Twitter正在受到操纵,以放大亲北京的信息。以色列的数据公司Next Dim发现了两条看上去普普通通、赞美中国抗击病毒的推文,而这些推文在3月被点赞和转发了数十万次,这可能得益于重要的有影响力帐号的帮助。
The U.S. State Department found inauthentic-seeming accounts that in April cited a Cambridge University study to raise doubts that the coronavirus originated in China. The most active of these accounts referred to the study in scores of tweets, even though the study’s lead author dismissed that interpretation of its findings.
美国国务院发现,一些看上去虚假的帐号在4月援引剑桥大学的一项研究,对新冠病毒是否真的起源于中国提出质疑。其中最活跃的帐号用多条推文提及了该研究,尽管该研究的主要作者反驳了这些帐号对其研究结果的解释。
Neither Next Dim’s findings nor the State Department’s have been previously reported.
Next Dim或国务院的发现均未见诸报道。
“Improving the health of the public conversation is a priority for our company,” Twitter said in a statement. “Platform manipulation, including spam and other attempts to undermine the public conversation, is a violation of the Twitter Rules.”
“改善公众对话的健康状况是我们公司的首要任务,”Twitter在一份声明中说。“平台操纵,包括垃圾信息和其他破坏公众对话的尝试,都违反了Twitter的规则。”
The State Department has denounced China’s efforts to burnish its image and drown out criticism during the pandemic, comparing them to Russia’s disinformation campaigns. Both countries are using a range of tools to “shape and tilt any given information environment in their favor,” said Lea Gabrielle, coordinator of the department’s Global Engagement Center.
国务院谴责中国在疫情期间美化形象并压制批评声音的行动,并将其与俄罗斯的虚假宣传活动进行了对比。全球接触中心(Global Engagement Center)特使兼协调员利亚·加布里埃尔(Lea Gabrielle)说,两国都在使用各种工具来“将任何给定的信息环境朝着对自己有利的方向加以塑造和倾斜”。
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“I think the Chinese Communist Party is still trying to define its relationship with Twitter,” said Kristine Lee, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “But the Covid-19 pandemic has served as an important period of experimentation.”
“我认为中共仍在努力定义它与Twitter的关系,”新美国安全中心(Center for a New American Security)的研究员克莉丝汀·李(Kristine Lee)说。“然而Covid-19大流行成了一个重要的实验时期。”
The U.S.-China tongue-lashing adds to the questions vexing Twitter about how it treats inflammatory or misleading remarks from world leaders. Mr. Trump has accused the company of censoring him and other Republicans while ignoring questionable posts by Democrats and the Chinese government.
Twitter对于如何对待世界领导人的煽动性或误导性言论感到头痛,而中美之间的口水战使问题更加复杂。特朗普指责该公司只审查他和其他共和党人,却无视民主党和中国政府的可疑帖子。
Beijing’s Twitter brigade includes Hua Chunying, the head of the foreign ministry’s information department. Since joining the platform in October, Ms. Hua has attracted more than half a million followers with her feisty put-downs of the United States.
北京的Twitter使团包括外交部新闻司司长华春莹。自10月份加入该平台以来,华春莹以其对美国的冷嘲热讽吸引了超过50万粉丝。
In a Communist Party journal last year, Ms. Hua wrote that China had to find a voice in international affairs that was commensurate with its economic strength. “We have walked closer to the center of the world stage than ever before, but we still do not grasp the microphone completely in our hands,” she wrote.
华春莹去年在一份共产党的报纸上写道,中国必须在国际事务中找到与其经济实力相称的声音。她写道:“我们前所未有地走近了世界舞台中央,但手中尚不完全掌握麦克风。”
One reason, she wrote: a lack of “fighting spirit.”
她写道,其中一个原因是缺乏“斗争精神”。
Another foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, became notorious after tweeting that the U.S. military might have brought the coronavirus to China. Twitter later added a fact-checking label to Mr. Zhao’s post.
另一名外交部发言人赵立坚在发推文称美国军方可能将新冠病毒带到中国后变得声名狼藉。后来,Twitter在赵立坚的推文中添加了一个事实核查的标签
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The Times analyzed all of the tweets that Ms. Hua, Mr. Zhao and 12 other Twitter users linked to the Chinese government posted between May 18 and May 25.
《纽约时报》分析了华春莹、赵立坚和其他12名与中国政府有关的Twitter用户在5月18日至5月25日发布的所有推文。
The other users included the foreign ministry’s main account, as well as the accounts of China’s ambassadors to the United States and Britain. They also included nine accounts run by state news outlets.
其他用户包括外交部的主帐号,以及中国驻美国和英国大使的帐号。还包括国有新闻机构运营的九个帐号。
That week, Beijing moved to tighten its control over Hong Kong. Mr. Trump threatened to cut off funding to the World Health Organization. American officials congratulated Taiwan’s president on the start of her second term. China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, was furious.
那一周,北京加强了对香港的控制。特朗普威胁要切断对世界卫生组织的资助。美国官员祝贺台湾总统开始第二任期。宣称台湾是其领土的中国对此非常愤怒
Ms. Hua mused about whether the coronavirus actually originated in the United States: “Scientists at the US NIH began developing a #COVID19 vaccine on January 11. There were reports of cases as early as November last year. Any explanation or investigation?” Her post, which refers to the National Institutes of Health, was liked 4,600 times.
华春莹提出了冠状病毒会不会其实起源于美国的想法:“美国NIH的科学家从1月11日开始研制 #COVID19 疫苗。早在去年11月就有病例报告。有任何解释或调查吗?”NIH指的是美国国立卫生研究院(National Institutes of Health),该推文被点赞4600次。
The Times’s analysis found that hundreds of the 4,600 accounts that reposted the Chinese government mouthpieces that week behaved suspiciously. Many were incessant tweeters despite having limited followings. After excluding accounts that had zero followers and had tweeted five times or fewer, over a sixth of the accounts had posted 100 or more times for every follower.
时报的分析发现,在上周转发中国政府宣传机构推文的4600个帐户中,有数百个帐号行为可疑。尽管关注数有限,但很多人都在不间断地发推。在排除了关注为零、只发过五条或五条以下推文的帐户后,超过六分之一的帐户的发推数是关注数的100倍或以上。
A few accounts repeatedly retweeted at set lengths of time after the original post — 9 hours and 49 minutes after, 19 hours and 34 minutes after — suggesting that software had been used to schedule their tweets. Twitter has since suspended some of the accounts for violating its policies.
有几个帐户在发推后,按照固定的时间间隔——9小时49分钟、19小时34分钟——反复转发,这表明他们使用了软件来安排发推。此后Twitter暂停了一些违反其规定的帐户。
When contacted by The Times, several pro-China Twitter users denied being part of a government campaign but acknowledged that they joined the platform specifically to follow the foreign ministry representatives. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
时报联系了几名支持中国的Twitter用户,他们否认参与了政府的行动,但承认他们加入该平台是专门为了关注外交部的代表。外交部没有回应记者的置评请求。
外交部发言人赵立坚以发表好斗的推文而出名。
外交部发言人赵立坚以发表好斗的推文而出名。 Wu Hong/EPA, via Shutterstock
Others said they were either curious about Mr. Trump’s tweets about China or felt demonized by them.
其他人表示,他们要么是对特朗普关于中国的推文感到好奇,要么是觉得自己被妖魔化了。
“He has done so many shameless things for re-election,” one user, @beautifullady76, said in a Twitter message. “Countless Chinese people are angry and everyone has the right to the truth. We just want to say a fair word for China!”
“他为了竞选连任做了那么多无耻的事,”用户 @beautifullady76 在推文中说。“无数中国人愤怒了,每个人都有权知道真相。我们只是想为中国说句公道话!”
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Public records show that Beijing is trying to expand its influence on the Western internet. China’s internet regulator has sought out contractors to help it “make use of overseas social media platforms to develop online propaganda on major themes,” procurement documents show.
公开记录显示,北京正试图扩大其在西方互联网上的影响力。采购文件显示,中国互联网监管机构已经寻求承包商帮助其“利用海外社交媒体平台,开展网上重大主题宣传”。
Much of this kind of activity may not appear in official documents, however. The regulator did not respond to a request for comment.
然而,大部分的这类活动可能不会出现在官方文件中。该监管机构没有回应记者的置评请求。
“There’s no reason to think that the parts of the Chinese government that are formally in charge of conducting information operations are not able to conduct operations that are as sophisticated as others’,” said Camille François of the network analysis company Graphika. “They just haven’t been publicly exposed and dissected yet.”
“没有理由认为,中国政府中正式负责信息运营的部门没有能力开展与其他部门一样复杂的行动,”网络分析公司Graphika的卡米尔·弗朗索瓦(Camille Francois)表示。“它们只是还没有被公开曝光和解析。”
Researchers remain on the lookout. ProPublica tracked 10,000 fishy accounts that posted about the coronavirus and the Hong Kong protests. Alkemy, an Italian digital marketing firm, found that inauthentic-looking users were behind many posts celebrating Chinese medical aid to Italy.
研究人员仍在观察。ProPublica追踪了1万个有关新冠病毒和香港抗议活动的可疑帐户。意大利数字营销公司Alkemy发现,许多称赞中国向意大利提供医疗援助的帖子背后的用户看上去不像真的
In March, two tweets lauding China’s handling of the outbreak were liked and reposted hundreds of thousands of times. The posts were not shocking, funny or newsworthy, and originated from users with modest followings.
今年3月,两条赞扬中国应对疫情的推文被点赞和转发数十万次。这些推文既不惊人、搞笑,也不具备新闻价值,而且来自关注数不多的用户。
That caught the attention of Next Dim, an Israeli company that uses network analytics to identify and prevent financial crime.
这引起了使用网络分析来识别和预防金融犯罪的以色列公司Next Dim的注意。
“While scanning Twitter, our systems automatically discovered a huge irregularity,” said Next Dim’s chief executive, Netta Marrom. Too huge, he believes, to be the result of chance.
“在扫描Twitter时,我们的系统自动发现了一个很大的异常现象,”Next Dim的首席执行官内塔·马罗姆(Netta Marrom)说。他认为,其规模太大,不可能是偶然的结果。
On March 12, the first user, @manisha_kataki, posted a video showing workers disinfecting streets in China. “At this rate, China will be back in action very soon, may be much faster than the world expects,” the user wrote.
3月12日,第一位用户 @manisha_kataki 发布了一段视频,显示中国的工人正在给街道消毒。该用户写道:“照这个速度,中国很快就会恢复正常,可能会比世界预期的快得多。”
The next day, another user, @Ejiketion, retweeted the post, marveling at how China had locked down cities and built coronavirus hospitals. In the West, by contrast, “We washing our hands LOL,” @Ejiketion wrote. The account has since been deleted.
第二天,另一位用户 @Ejiketion 转发了这条推文,对中国封锁城市、建立新冠病毒医院的做法感到惊讶。相比之下,在西方,“我们洗手哈哈哈,”@Ejiketion 写道。该帐号现已被删除。
The two posts together received more than 382,000 retweets and 1.1 million likes, many of them within the first two days. That made them roughly as popular as Elon Musk’s tweet, also from March, in which the head of Tesla called the coronavirus panic “dumb.”
这两条推文总共获得了超过38.2万次转发,110万次点赞,其中很多都是在发布后两天内。这使得它们的受欢迎程度堪比埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)同样在3月份发布的那条称新冠病毒恐慌“愚蠢”的推文
Two other posts that also retweeted @manisha_kataki but translated @Ejiketion’s comment into Spanish and French received a combined 67,000 retweets and 181,000 likes.
另外两条推也转发了 @manisha_kataki,但将 @Ejiketion 的评论翻译成西班牙语法语的推文总共收到了6.7万次转发和18.1万个赞。
Next Dim identified around 20 Twitter users whose followers accounted for thousands of the retweets of @manisha_kataki’s and @Ejiketion’s posts. Some of these users had immense followings but rarely tweeted about China.
Next Dim确认了大约20名推特用户,他们的关注者数千次转发 @manisha_kataki 和 @Ejiketion 的推文。其中一些用户拥有大量的关注者,但很少发布关于中国的推文。
上个月,两会期间的北京天安门广场。
上个月,两会期间的北京天安门广场。 Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock
Next Dim’s analysis uncovered other signs that the two tweets’ popularity may not have been organic. Few of the first users to retweet @manisha_kataki’s post were followers of the account, which means they were unlikely to have seen the tweet in their timelines. Thousands of accounts reposted both tweets, even though @Ejiketion’s tweet was itself a repost of @manisha_kataki’s.
Next Dim的分析还发现了其他迹象,表明这两条推文的受欢迎程度可能不是自然形成的。第一批转发 @manisha_kataki 的用户中,几乎没有人关注了该帐号,这意味着他们不太可能在自己的时间轴上看到这条推文。尽管 @Ejiketion 的推文是转发 @manisha_kataki,但仍有数千人把他们的两条推文都转发了。
Neither @manisha_kataki nor @Ejiketion responded to requests for comment.
@manisha_kataki 和 @Ejiketion 均未回复置评请求。

Wang Yiwei和Lin Qiqing对本文有研究贡献。

Raymond Zhong是《纽约时报》科技记者。在2017年加入时报前,他在新德里为《华尔街日报》报道印度快速增长的经济。欢迎在Twitter上关注他 @zhonggg

孟建国(Paul Mozur)是《纽约时报》科技记者,主要关注亚洲科技和地缘政治的交叉点。他曾两次入围普利策奖。欢迎在Twitter上关注他 @paulmozur

Ronen Bergman是《纽约时报杂志》的作者,常驻特拉维夫。他的新作《Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations》由兰登书屋出版。

黄安伟(Edward Wong)是一名外交与国际新闻记者,在时报任职超过20年,其中13年驻伊拉克和中国。他因关于伊拉克战争的报道获得了利文斯顿奖(Livingston Award),也曾入选普利策奖候选名单。他是哈佛大学尼曼学者,并在普林斯顿大学担任费里斯新闻学教授。欢迎在Twitter上关注他 @ewong

翻译:纽约时报中文网

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