Washington: China actively attempts to manipulate, dominate and discredit independent sources reporting ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity conducted against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang region, according to a US report.

The report highlights that China has directed and affiliated actors leading a coordinated effort to amplify Beijing's preferred narratives on Xinjiang, drown out and marginalize narratives that are critical of its repression of Uyghurs, and harass those critical of the country.

"China's messaging tactics seek to drown out critical narratives by both flooding the international information environment to limit access to content that contradicts Beijing's official line," read a US State Department report dated August 24.

According to the report, messengers use sophisticated AI-generated images to create the appearance of the authenticity of fake user profiles and added that China works to silence dissent by engaging in digital transnational repression, trolling, and cyberbullying.

It slammed China for flooding conversations to drown out messages it perceives as unfavourable to its interests on search engines and social media feeds, and to amplify Beijing's preferred narratives on its treatment of Uyghurs.

"Pro-PRC stakeholders flood information ecosystems with counternarratives, conspiracy theories, and unrelated news items to suppress narratives detailing PRC authorities' atrocities in Xinjiang. Government social media accounts, PRC-affiliated media, private accounts, and bot clusters, likely all directed by PRC authorities, assist in this effort," it read.

Further, accusing China of manipulating narratives on Xinjiang, the US State Department reports pointed out that pro-China actors engage in "astroturfing" or coordinated campaigns of inauthentic posts to create the illusion of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or viewpoint, when no such widespread support exists.

"Similar to flooding, the PRC uses astroturfing to inundate the information space with "positive stories " about Xinjiang and the Uyghur population, including manufactured depictions of Uyghurs living "simple happy lives," as well as posts emphasizing the purported economic gains that the PRC's policies have brought to Xinjiang."

In mid-2021, the report said that over 300 pro-China inauthentic accounts posted thousands of videos of Uyghurs seeming to deny abuse in the region and claiming they were "very free."

"These videos claimed to show widespread disagreement throughout Xinjiang with claims in international media that Uyghurs were oppressed. However, according to the New York Times and ProPublica, propaganda officials in Xinjiang created most of these videos, which first appeared on PRC-based platforms and then spread to YouTube and Twitter, in order to manipulate public opinion."

The US report brought to light that pro-China networks have used advanced artificial intelligence-generated content, such as StyleGAN machine-learning generated images, to fabricate realistic-looking profile pictures for their inauthentic accounts.

Unlike stolen images of real people, these tools create composite images that cannot be traced using a reverse image search, making it harder to determine whether the account is inauthentic, it added.

"Some of these accounts repeatedly denied the PRC's atrocities in Xinjiang, falsely asserting that the body of overwhelming and objective independent evidence of the atrocities is simply a fabrication of the United States and its allies."

It revealed that Chinese-sponsored transnational repression targets those who speak out against the PRC, particularly in Chinese diaspora communities, with on- and offline harassment to prevent them from sharing their stories or to intimidate them into self-censorship.

"Trolling campaigns are designed to silence those who speak out against the PRC, to poison the information environment with bad-faith arguments, and to silence opposing viewpoints. Trolling campaigns frequently evolve into threats of death, rape, or assault; malicious cyber-attacks; and cyberbullying or harassment through doxxing - publishing an individual's personal information online without their permission, including their full name, home address, or job."

In March 2021, the report noted that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) publicly questioned several individuals' claims of maltreatment.

China's Xinjiang narratives focus on denying criticism and amplifying "positive stories" in an attempt to counter accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity. The most aggressive PRC messengers often go on the offensive, creating false equivalencies with the actions of other countries to distract from international criticism of PRC behaviour.

PRC messengers both post and amplify content that denies claims made by independent media outlets and internationally renowned think tanks. In response to third-party accusations that the Chinese subjects Uyghurs to forced labour, a wave of PRC diplomatic accounts, PRC-and Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated media organizations, and suspected bot networks posted stories about the mechanized cotton harvesting process in Xinjiang, suggesting that the Xinjiang cotton industry has no need for forced labour.

This messaging avoided responding to reports regarding the PRC authorities' transfer of an estimated 100,000 Uyghurs out of Xinjiang in "coercive labour placements " to work in factories elsewhere in the PRC.

Chinese actors use hashtags such as #AmazingXinjiang and #Xinjiang to amplify positive stories about Xinjiang and counter independent reporting of allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide by PRC authorities.

Stories of a multicultural society living in harmony stand in contrast to the reality of the PRC's extensive surveillance of Uyghurs, including PRC officials living in Uyghur homes for at least six weeks a year.

This messaging aims to divert attention from reports regarding the PRC's "demographic engineering " campaign to systematically increase the Han Chinese population in Xinjiang and to "dilute " Uyghur population concentrations in the region.

PRC actors, including voluble diplomats in the MFA's Information Department use "whataboutism" and false equivalencies to distract from the PRC's policies in Xinjiang and to portray accusers as hypocritical.

Their arguments do not advance the case that the PRC is innocent; rather, they make the point that other countries are equally guilty of abuses. Despite these efforts to distract from the situation in Xinjiang, independent media outlets, academics, and human rights activists have published multiple eyewitness accounts and verifiable data that the PRC has imprisoned an estimated one million people and that credible evidence exists of torture, forced sterilization, and other abuses.