China looks to online influencers to spread the Communist Party message

Linda Lew

China’s Communist Party aims to enlist online influencers – from make-up tutors to stunt performers – into its cause through its main outreach arm, the United Front Work Department.

Cadres from the department as well as cyber administration officials and propaganda cadres from across the country met in Beijing on Thursday for the first time to discuss ways to co-opt influencers, party newspaper People’s Daily reported.

Department head You Quan said that working with online influencers was now a key department priority.

“We need to build an online personnel team, to guide them to play an active role in leading public opinion and other areas,” You was quoted as saying.

“[We] will work hard to surround them by the Communist Party’s side, to concentrate the wisdom and power for achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese people and the Chinese dream.”

The department has traditionally been responsible for managing the party’s relations with non-party elites both inside and outside China.

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Its agenda has expanded since last year, with it having a more vocal role in areas such as ethnic policies and religious affairs, as well as Beijing’s ties with overseas Chinese.

“Online personnel” was defined as those that command influence on the internet, either by shaping public opinion, generating online content or have influence in mobilising the public into action, according to the report.

Veteran political commentator Sonny Lo Shiu-hing said it was not surprising that the department was trying to woo online influencers because the party wanted to control all media.

Lo said that although the department would try to guide the influencers into supporting party’s positions and policies, he doubted whether the approach would be effective.

“In the era of globalisation, people can receive all kinds of information and so I don’t think such online united front work can or will be influential,” he said.

“The audiences are not necessarily absorbing what [the influencers] say because on the internet the watching time per person is quite short in general, especially for these political propaganda messages, and the impact will be limited.”

The department set out three recruitment tasks – providing training sessions, and pushing the influencers to produce healthy online content and actively taking part in major online propaganda campaigns, according to the report.

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