India-Pakistan Border at Night

The Wednesday Politics Thread Scrambles for the Finish Line

Sure I procrastinated, but I have an excuse… I’m getting ready to take my first international trip this weekend! This USian finally got passport in hand and ticket to ride, flying to East Africa for almost the entire month of April. I’ll have posts scheduled ahead of time in case I’m unable to get online at a crucial moment, and it’s possible I’ll even be able to share some first-hand political commentary from the people there. Excitement and adventure!

How China’s TikTok, Facebook influencers push propaganda

China’s interest in social media influencers became evident in December when filings with the Justice Department revealed the Chinese Consulate in New York paid $300,000 to New Jersey firm Vippi Media to recruit influencers to post messages to Instagram and TikTok followers during the Beijing Olympics. Vipp Jaswal, Vippi Media’s CEO, declined to share with AP details about the posts.

English-speaking influencers have also cultivated a niche by promoting pro-Chinese messaging on YouTube and Twitter.

YouTubers Matthew Tye, an American, and Winston Sterzel, who is from South Africa, believe, in many cases, China is paying for content.

They were included last year on an email pitch to numerous YouTube influencers from a company that identified itself as Hong Kong Pear Technology. The email asked them to share a promotional video for China’s touristy Hainan province on their channels. Pear Technology followed up in another email with a pitch for them to post a propaganda video that asserted COVID-19 originated from North American white-tailed deer, not China.

“There’s a very easy formula to become successful,” Sterzel said in an interview. “It’s simply to praise the Chinese government, to praise China and talk about how great China is and how bad the West is.”

AP [archive]

Pro-Russia Sentiment on Indian Twitter Draws Scrutiny

While India and Russia have long had close ties, researchers say there are signs that social media posts parroting Kremlin talking points may not be legitimate.

The prevalence of accounts claiming to be from Indian users indicates that India’s social media landscape has become an important destination in the effort to influence public opinion of the war in Ukraine.

Although the activity suggested the accounts may be inauthentic, there was no hard evidence that they were part of a coordinated influence campaign aimed at shifting sentiment about the war in India.

Pro-Russian sentiment has taken hold in right-wing circles in the United States, misinformation that has spread within Russia claims Ukrainians have staged bombings or bombed their own neighborhoods, and myths about Ukrainian fortitude have gone viral across social media platforms. But in India and other countries where social media users joined the hashtag, pro-Russian narratives have focused on ethnonationalism and Western hypocrisy over the war, themes that have resonated with social media users.

NYT [archive]

Here’s what to read on India’s Russia dilemma – plus a wayward missile

[…] India has not toed the American or European Union line on Russia. It has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nor indeed referred to it as such. New Delhi chose to abstain on a number of United Nations resolutions that “deplored” Russian aggression on Ukraine.

It has called for an end to violence and insisted that dialogue and diplomacy are the only paths forward, but it has done so without identifying Russia as the aggressor. And […] it has sought to take advantage of the situation to secure cheap oil supplies from Russia, earning consternation from many commentators in the West.

In the initial weeks after the war broke out, some of the commentaries from the Indian side seemed to suggest that India’s support for Moscow was almost reflexive – an automatic choice for a post-colonial power, and one that it would only double down on if lectured at by Americans who have hardly been reliable partners to New Delhi over the years.

Aside from the military relationship, and India’s need to play nice with Putin given the threats it faces from China and Pakistan in the neighbourhood, there was also a more immediate factor determining India’s reaction in the early weeks of the war: The tens of thousands of Indians – mostly students – still in the country.

The consensus across a number of commentators is that, for all of New Delhi’s talk of strategic autonomy, the Ukraine war has exposed an over-reliance on Moscow that has become a liability, but also that reducing dependence on Russia will take time. [archive]

Ukraine war accelerates climate emergencies in Horn of Africa

Opinion by Mohamed M Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa

Drought has plagued the Horn of Africa for more than four decades, but the past three years have seen some of the harshest conditions yet.

Throughout the region, livestock is dying in droves and crops are failing. More than 1.7 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia require urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition. If rains do not arrive in the next three months, these numbers will increase to more than two million. Weather forecasts already suggest temperatures will climb higher than usual in the coming weeks. In some parts of the region, famine is not just a threat, it is waiting.

The war in Ukraine is set to tip more families in the Horn of Africa over the edge. The region has become increasingly dependent on imported grains from Russia and Ukraine. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia import 67 percent, 89 percent and 92 percent of their wheat respectively from the two countries. Russia and Ukraine also account for 53 percent of the global trade of sunflower oil and seed. However, supply lines are blocked and, in areas of Ukraine, agricultural production is in danger. The prices of cooking oil, bread and wheat flour are already reaching new records in local markets in the Horn of Africa. A dire nutrition crisis is expected to escalate.

Al Jazeera [archive]

Believe it or not, I wish I had had more time the past couple days to spend reading about politics (then chewing, digesting, and regurgitating it here midweek for your pleasure). I’m sure you feel the same but I beg you not to let your insatiable hunger for political news transform you into some McSquirrel Rule violating monster. The mods won’t beg you, but they will look judgingly at you and possibly worse 😰