The Pervasive Presence of Chinese Government Content on Douyin Trending Videos
Keywords:China, political communication, Video, Douyin, Tiktok, Computer Vision
As audiences have moved to digital media, so too have governments around the world. While previous research has focused on how authoritarian regimes employ strategies such as the use of fabricated accounts and content to boost their reach, this paper reveals two different tactics the Chinese government uses on Douyin, the Chinese version of the video-sharing platform TikTok, to compete for audience attention. We use a multi-modal approach that combines analysis of video, text, and meta-data to examine a novel dataset of Douyin videos. We find that a large share of trending videos are produced by accounts affiliated with the Chinese government. These videos contain visual characteristics designed to maximize attention such as high levels of brightness and entropy and very short duration, and are more visually similar to content produced by celebrities and ordinary users than to content from non-official media accounts. We also find that the majority of videos produced by regime-affiliated accounts do not fit traditional definitions of propaganda but rather contain stories and topics unrelated to any aspect of the government, the Chinese Communist Party, policies, or politics.