As China continues to assert its economic might, it is using the global social media ecosystem to expand its already formidable influence. The country has quietly built a network of social media personalities who parrot the government’s perspective in posts seen by hundreds of thousands of people, operating in virtual lockstep as they promote China’s virtues, deflect international criticism of its human rights abuses and advance Beijing’s talking points on world affairs like Russia’s war against Ukraine.

To her 1.4 million followers across TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, Vica Li says she is a “life blogger” and “food lover” who wants to teach her fans about China so they can travel the country with ease.

“Through my lens, I will take you around China, take you into Vica’s life!” she says in a video posted in January to her YouTube and Facebook accounts, where she also teaches Chinese classes over Zoom.

But that lens may be controlled by CGTN, the Chinese-state run TV network where she has regularly appeared in broadcasts and is listed as a digital reporter on the company’s website. And while Vica Li tells her followers that she “created all of these channels on her own,” her Facebook account shows that at least nine people manage her page.

That portfolio of accounts is just one tentacle of China’s rapidly growing influence on U.S.-owned social media platforms, an Associated Press examination has found.

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