China Firm ‘Developed System to Manipulate Public Opinion’; Leaked Information Describes Hijacking Social Media Accounts (UPDATE 1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The front cover of a leaked sales document describing a system for manipulating opinion online

A Shanghai-based tech company with ties to the Chinese government is suspected of developing a system to manipulate public opinion via accounts on the X social media platform, it has been learned.

An apparent sales document introducing the system is available online and has been obtained by Japan’s intelligence agency. Believing the document to be genuine, the agency has been analyzing it and closely investigating its connection with China’s activities to manipulate public opinion overseas.

The roughly 20-page document was leaked onto the internet and is believed to be the creation of a tech company called I-Soon. The document was uploaded in mid-February to GitHub, an online information-sharing platform for IT engineers, along with about 580 other files believed to be internal documents from I-Soon. 

The document obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun has a front cover with the title “Product introduction document for a Twitter opinion manipulation and control system” written in Chinese. The cover also says that the document is the first edition, released in 2022. 

The purpose of the system is to monitor and manipulate public opinion outside China, according to the document. It states at the beginning, “We have developed a system to meet the need to detect unfavorable critical opinions” and “In order to ensure the stability of society, it is critical that public security authorities control public opinion.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

According to the document and other sources, the system allows its users to hijack other people’s X accounts by sending them a rogue URL and tricking them into clicking the link. As a result, users can access direct messages that are supposed to be private and post opinions in line with the policies of Chinese authorities.

In recent years, there has been a series of cases in which X accounts that appear to have been hijacked have criticized protesters and dissidents in China in Chinese or Japanese, sources close to the Japanese government said. The system described in the document may have been used in these incidents. 

According to the website of I-Soon, which is currently closed, the company was founded in 2010 and currently has branches in Beijing, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. I-Soon was selected as a supplier of IT products for China’s state security ministry, which is in charge of cracking down on espionage.

The website also introduced China’s public security ministry, which is responsible for internal security, and public security bureaus at local police headquarters as the company’s “partners.” Certificates of gratitude sent from these organizations were shown on the website.