This Year’s Winter Olympics Have Their Own Disinformation Problem

Some of the techniques are very familiar

Technology and the Olympics converge in some unexpected ways.
Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

In an ideal world, the Olympics would be exist in its ideal state: a way for the world’s best athletes to compete against one another in their chosen fields. Instead, global politics can often play a significant role in and around the competition itself. This can involve boycotts — like those that took place in the 1980s during the Cold War, or like the diplomatic boycott playing out during the Winter Games. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia as that year’s Olympics began.

It’s not surprising, then, to see a political dimension to the 2022 Winter Olympics, which has included the sight of Chinese government officials taking a Dutch reporter off the air while he was reporting live. But the extent to which the host nation’s government has managed its appearance in the media extends far beyond that.

A new report by Steven Lee Myers, Paul Mozur and Jeff Kao at The New York Times and ProPublica explores the ways in which the Chinese government is manipulating its image and spreading misinformation about the Winter Games online. The authors write about “an arsenal of digital tools that are giving China’s narrative arguably greater reach and more subtlety than ever before,” and explore exactly what this consists of.

In particular, the Times notes, is a phenomenon all too familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to online disinformation and social media in the last few years. That would be what the authors describe as “a network of more than 3,000 inauthentic-looking Twitter accounts” that all have a tendency to share official government accounts of the Olympics as well as critiques of a potential boycott of the Winter Games.

The whole article is well worth your time, and goes deeply into the ways in which different events have been spun and magnified. It’s a fascinating and unsettling read.

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