Articles claiming Hillary Clinton is the key culprit in the birth of ISIL are going viral on China’s internet, attracting hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of readers—many who know little other information about the US presidential frontrunner, because of China’s censorship.
The articles, which started appearing after the FBI announced on Oct. 28 that it has uncovered new emails that might be linked to its investigation of the Democratic nominee’s private email server, carry anti-American and anti-democracy messages, and call Clinton a “culprit” or “teammate” of the Islamic State terrorist group.
They are being widely, and freely, shared on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, despite Beijing’s ban on sharing rumors or speculative news stories there.
The articles typically lack solid sourcing, rely heavily on meme-like images with overlaid text to support their storytelling, and are riddled with profanities. And they have gone big, with at least three attracting 100,000 page views on WeChat, the biggest viewership number the app shows.
One of the most popular is headlined “Is Hillary actually the culprit behind ISIS? Hacker alliance exposed appalling material to strike down Hillary and send Trump to the peak,” from Cool Labs (link in Chinese), a tech blog based in Beijing.
It contains this memorable image, with text that reads “Go f-ck yourself, American dream.”
The article is pegged to the FBI announcement, but draws heavily on the unrelated Wikileaks dump of Clinton’s emails in October. In a 2014 email, Clinton accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL,” the Chinese blog post notes, showing a screenshot from the hacking group. Because the two foreign governments are Clinton’s “strong international allies,” the article claims, Clinton herself is a supporter of ISIL.
The article also claims incorrectly that Wikileaks has revealed that Clinton faked votes, illegally took foreign donations during her presidential campaign, and removed a foreign country from the US’s terrorism list after the Clinton Foundation accepted its bribes.
Sometimes the claims appear to relate tangentially to actual emails released by Wikileaks, but have completely misconstrued what they say. For example, in a Wikileaks released email that relates to removing a country from a “terrorism list,” Clinton advisors are actually mocking US television pundit Joe Scarborough for saying this about Algeria, a country that has long been an ally in the US fight against terrorism.
The Cool Labs article asks:
For so many years, the US government has been (pretending to) search for ISIS’s funder… while Hillary, a US citizen, former Secretary of State in tenure for eight years, and now the most popular presidential candidate is actually very clear about this issue!… Aren’t you an accomplice when it comes to those US citizens who lost their lives in anti-terrorism wars?
It’s not only about whether Clinton “is committing a crime,” it adds, but about “the dignity of the world’s most powerful country.”
The takeaway: China’s communist regime works much better than Western democracy. “I felt so bad that I picked up my party constitution,” the article concludes. “I didn’t treat you seriously, my dear superior socialism.”
Another popular article cites a fake news story planted by hackers in Jordan, saying that Saudi Arabian royalty funded 20% of Clinton’s campaign.
While the articles are easy to disprove outside the Great Firewall, there’s less information inside it. They use screenshots from news sites like the New York Times and MSNBC—both blocked in China—in an attempt to give them more credibility. An article from Insight China (link in Chinese), a blog about overseas studies, uses a screenshot from the New York Times to introduce the FBI twist, but the headline says “Hillary is connected to ISIS.”
As a result, Chinese readers are taking their theories to heart.
“Hahahahahahaha, go f-ck yourself, American Dream,” one WeChat user commented under the Cool Labs post, getting more than 3,000 “likes.” The Clinton situation is “even more appealing” than HBO’s House of Cards (which is popular in China), another wrote.
Calling Clinton the “culprit” behind ISIL echos remarks made by her Republican opponent Donald Trump. These Chinese posts also echo another common Trump conspiracy theory—that is the US mass media is controlled by Clinton. At least two articles quote CNN anchor Chris Cuomo saying “it’s illegal to possess” Wikileaks Clinton emails, in an attempt to criticize Western journalism, but fail to say many news organizations immediately refuted his false remarks.
“What about democracy and freedom?” the Cool Labs article commented on Cuomo’s remarks. “Ah, by comparison suddenly I feel that our People’s Daily is actually very lovely.” The People’s Daily is the paramount mouthpiece newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
It’s not the first time that a Clinton-related conspiracy theory has found its way to China’s internet. In August, Clinton was widely believed in China to have ordered the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich for leaking emails, thanks to a Chinese government account that promoted the story on social networking site Weibo. (WikiLeaks’ founder appears to have started the rumor by suggesting Rich was a WikiLeaks informant.)
This time the main allegation against Clinton is arguably more absurd but also more tantalizing. At least six of my WeChat friends, many of them university-educated and well traveled, shared the Cool Labs article on WeChat, something I didn’t see last time.