When China-linked networks of social media bots and trolls appeared on the global disinformation scene in 2019, most analysts concluded that their impact and reach were fairly limited, particularly in terms of engagement by real users and relative to more sophisticated actors in this realm, like the Russian regime. As many China watchers anticipated, that assessment now seems to be changing.

Several in-depth investigations published over the past two months by academic researchers, think tanks, news outlets, and cybersecurity companies have shed light on the evolution of disinformation campaigns originating in China. Some offer new insights on campaigns that peaked last spring, while others analyze more recent messaging, tactics, and accounts that have emerged since October 2020.

A close reading of these investigations points to several emergent features of China-linked disinformation campaigns — meaning the purposeful dissemination of misleading content, including via inauthentic activity on global social media platforms.