A ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ TV star, Paralympic swimmer and self-proclaimed ‘brand king’ were among Instagram and TikTok influencers who were paid by Chinese officials for a low-key campaign promoting the Olympics Beijing winter, new Ministry of Justice documents reveal.
The social media posts were pushed to a variety of popular Instagram and TikTok accounts which have a combined following of 5 million people who follow their videos, photos and content on travel destinations, sports, fashion and issues. women. The Chinese consulate in New York paid $300,000 to New Jersey-based company Vippi Media to recruit the influencers. The posts were not properly labeled as ads as required by TikTok and Instagram.
“It allows them to increase the reach and resonance of their message to make it appear as authentic and independent content,” said Jessica Brandt, Brookings Institution expert on foreign interference and misinformation, about the Chinese social media campaign.
More details about the social media campaign were leaked in documents filed with the Justice Department on Monday, just days after an Associated Press review found China uses a vast network of influencers. and social media accounts to subtly spread propaganda to users around the world.
The AP report found that Vippi Media has yet to file updates with the Justice Department on its influence campaign, even though federal law requires the company to do so within 24 hours. following the distribution of the documents. The company had registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 law that aims to let Americans know when foreign entities are trying to influence public opinion or policy makers.
Vippi Media’s campaign, aimed at US social media users, reached approximately 4 million users with ads scattered across stories, videos and posts on TikTok and Instagram in January, February and March by nearly one year. dozen influencers. Accounts named in the filing shared posts promoting the Olympics with the hashtags #Beijing2022, #partner and #ad.
The majority of Instagram and TikTok content shared by influencers was simply announcing the Winter Olympics, sharing photos of some of the ceremonies, or giving insight into Chinese cultural customs.
Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ cast member Crystal Kung Minkoff, listed as one of the influencers hired by Vippi Media, posted a video on her Instagram where she performed a fake news-style home show of simulating an Olympic game of musical chairs with his children. Later, the post praised “Team USA” and said that Beijing is the first city to host the summer and winter games. A message left for Minkoff did not receive an immediate response.
Meanwhile, Jessica Long, decorated Paralympic swimmer and popular Instagram personality, celebrated the upcoming Olympics in a Jan. 27 post to her nearly 100,000 followers. “Have fun creating unforgettable memories at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.” Long did not immediately respond to request for comment.
One of the most striking videos came from TikTok influencer Ryan Dubs, a “brand king” with over half a million followers on his account, where he frequently sells skincare products. skin.
Dubs posted a 3-minute interview with Chinese Consul General in New York, Huang Ping, who spoke with Chinese and American flags behind him.
The spot’s caption includes hashtags for the Beijing 2022 games. Huang and Dubs denounce US tariffs against Chinese imports. Dubs says he has amazing suppliers in China and encourages American entrepreneurs to do business with China. Haung went on to invite American companies to come to China in the video. The Beijing games are briefly featured, with Dubs saying they “helped define China in 2022”. Dubs did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment.
It is unclear how much each influencer was paid to post the content.
Minkoff, Long and Dubs used #partner in their posts, but did not directly identify who sponsored the content. Instagram requires influencers to tag the sponsor, and TikTok and Instagram require their users to register posts as a paid partnership with the company. Most influencers, however, flout these rules – leaving social media users in the dark as to who is paying for the posts they see in their feeds.
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately return an email seeking comment.