20 minutes.

That’s how long it took for China to mobilize a multifaceted propaganda campaign after tennis star Peng Shuai accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Officials use a tested playbook to stamp out / shift narratives. It didn’t work as planned...
STEP ONE: Remove all traces

Censors expunged Ms. Peng’s allegations from Weibo, scrubbed other posts referring to the claims and banned several hundred keywords.

For a while, they limited topics as broad as “tennis.”

Here are screenshots of her post.
This banner appeared in a Weibo tennis forum, warning: “Due to violation of community guidelines, it is temporarily prohibited to post in this Super Topic space.”
STEP TWO: Say nothing abroad, until you can’t
Beijing can control the Chinese internet, but outside the country, the propaganda apparatus has to take a different tack.

The strategy is usually to stay silent and hope international attention blows over. This time it didn’t.
The @WTA and top tennis players like @naomiosaka and @DjokerNole publicly raised concerns about her safety. Soon the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai was ricocheting across global social media.

Here’s how state media responded...
@CGTNOfficial posted a screenshot of what it said was an email from Ms. Peng denying the allegations and asking to be left alone.

But people pointed out that the prose was stilted, and in the image of the email, a cursor was visible, raising questions about who wrote the text.
Ok, STEP THREE: Provide visual proof

@shen_shiwei, another @CGTNOfficial reporter, posted photos that he said were from the tennis star’s personal WeChat account

The setting matched images she previously posted, but it was unclear when / where they were taken, + by whom.
@HuXijin_GT, top editor of the Communist Party’s @globaltimesnews, posted video clips of Ms. Peng at dinner with a group of people.

The next morning, state media reporters posted pics and footage of Ms. Peng at a youth tennis tournament.

It came across as heavily scripted.
Pin Ho, a NY-based businessman who owns a Chinese news outlet, likened China’s propaganda campaign to fire trucks pouring gasoline on a fire.

They “buried their heads in the sand and made these theatrical scenes, one after another,”

Ok so on to the next step..
STEP FOUR: Tap a friendly foreigner

When the @iocmedia said that its president had held a video call with Ms. Peng, Chinese state media shared the committee’s tweets and statement that said Ms. Peng “appeared to be relaxed” (but made no mention of Ms. Peng’s accusations).
It did little to allay concerns. Instead, Olympic officials faced criticism about their relative silence on Ms. Peng’s allegations. They have said that they are helping with “quiet diplomacy.”
Time for STEP FIVE: Unleash an army of fake accounts

@nytimes / @ProPublica found 97 fake accounts promoting Chinese state media messaging about Ms. Peng.

Nearly all followed no other accounts and had no followers. They were among 1,700+ fake Twitter accounts we identified.
Twitter picked up on this suspicious activity. Many of the posts that shared Mr. Hu's tweet have already disappeared. The company said it removed all 97 accounts for violating policies. “I never knew that there are bot-like accounts interacting with my posts,” Hu told us.
These accounts posted most of their tweets on weekdays 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Beijing time, with a slight lunchtime lull — a pattern seen in other campaigns attributed to China. The accounts had little posting history. More than half of them were less than 3 months old.
STEP SIX: Push a counter narrative

@Jingjing_Li, an anchor with CGTN, suggested that the West was using Ms. Peng to undermine China

Ms. Li did not respond to a request for comment about her tweet.
After the Women’s Tennis Association announced its decision to suspend its tournaments in China on Dec. 1, @HuXijin_GT accused the tennis organization of forcing Ms. Peng to help the West attack China, and said it was depriving her of freedom of expression.
FINAL STEP: Make it us versus them

Censors on Weibo keep expunging recent comments about Ms. Peng, with one notable exception: a post from the French Embassy urging China to respect its commitments to protect women.

It became a nationalist dumping ground.
Users lashed out at France, accusing the country of meddling in China’s affairs. One commenter leaned on whataboutism, pointing to recent reports of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy of France’s Roman Catholic Church.

The posts are likely highly choreographed and curated
At one point, the site’s statistics showed the embassy post had been shared 1,600 times, but only a few of the most recent re-posts appeared, and they each expressed support for the French Embassy.

Within hours, the posts disappeared.
China’s top-down strategy for controlling Peng Shaui’s narrative largely stumbled.

Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment. The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond to a request for comment.

Read the full story: propublica.org/article/china-…
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More from @propublica

11 Dec
This is a story about some billionaires who each had their horses selected to run in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

None of them won, but their pricey racing operations had already delivered a bigger prize: Hundreds of millions in tax write-offs. 🧵👉
2/ King Fury, former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman's million-dollar horse, didn't even make it to the gate that day, scratched before the Derby because of a fever. But Fireman had already counted $9.3M in losses from his horse-racing operation against his income over a few years. Image
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7 Dec
Year after year, real estate magnates like Donald Trump & Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross managed to avoid paying ANY federal income tax, despite reporting huge earnings.
The latest Secret IRS Files entry reveals how they do it by claiming huge losses.

2/ Trump and Ross are among a subset of the ultrarich who exploit businesses that generate huge tax deductions that then flow through to their personal tax returns. Many are in commercial real estate or oil & gas, industries granted unusual advantages in the tax code.
3/ Manhattan apartment towers that are soaring in value can be turned into sinkholes for tax purposes. A massively profitable natural gas pipeline company can churn out Texas-sized write-offs for its billionaire owner.

Read 20 tweets
24 Nov
We asked readers to send us raw turkey pics so we could put them through our “chicken checker,” which shows salmonella rates at America’s poultry plants.

Here are their results. 👇

(We don’t say this often, but it’s actually good news)
Peg bought a “young” turkey at @WholeFoods in Bridgewater, NJ.

No high risk salmonella was found at the PA processing plant it came from in the past year.
Eli bought this turkey in Manhattan at a wholesaler called Baldor.

Here’s where it came from. No high risk salmonella to be found.
Read 23 tweets
12 Nov
1/ We mapped the spread of toxic air pollution from industrial facilities across every neighborhood in the country. We found 1,000+ hotspots of cancer-causing air.

Now, we’re trying to get word out to the people who live in those places.

*All* of them.

We need your help:
2/ Our goal is to hear from someone who lives or works in each hotspot.

We’re trying all sorts of things:
- mailers
- local news partnerships
- flyers in libraries, etc.

– but every place is different, and we could really use some help.
3/ You can help us share by:

-Printing fliers and putting them wherever you can: propub.li/flier

-Spreading the link to our callout: propublica.org/tips/pollution/

-Sending anyone you know in these places to that 👆 callout:
Read 8 tweets
3 Nov
1/ We created the most detailed map of cancer-causing industrial air pollution ever published.

It took many journalists and two years, but we found over 1,000 “hot spots.”

Here’s how to use it 👇
2/ You can type in any address, ZIP code or city.

We’re going to use “Houston” as an example.

The map tells us that the average estimated cancer risk from industrial pollution in Houston is 1/29,000.

That’s already pretty high. But in many parts of the city, it’s much higher.
3/ You can zoom and click to see where estimated risk is highest. Here, the estimated cancer risk is as high as 1/2,600.

That means for every 2,600 people living in this area, there would likely be one additional case of cancer after a lifetime of exposure.

It adds up.
Read 11 tweets
31 Oct
THREAD: What happened when @propublica staffers used our new database to look up where their raw chicken/turkey came from?

(It also shows how often high-risk strains of salmonella were found at each processing plant)

What they found isn’t for the faint of stomach.

First up...
@schwanksta, who runs the team that produced the database

Ground turkey

Purchased at:
@Wegmans in Brooklyn, NY.

High-risk salmonella:
Found in 17.5% of samples at the processing facility.

“But I made meatballs!” Ken exclaims.
@jeremykohler, reporter

Chicken breast

Purchased at:
@AldiUSA University City, MO

High-risk salmonella:
Found in 3.4% of samples at the processing facility.

Chicken was fashioned into delicious-looking chicken parm.

“Hope I don’t poison anyone,” Jeremy says.
Read 23 tweets

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