Chinese AI Videos Target Internet Users

By Claire Wilson 

June 3, 2024

In China, a bizarre trend of AI-manipulated Russian women promoting China-Russia ties has swept social media platforms such as Douyin, Bilibili, and Xiaohongshu. These videos typically feature pretty Russian women who talk about their love and gratitude for China or promote Russian products. 

Olga Loiek, a Ukrainian college student at the University of Pennsylvania has appeared in almost 5,000 of these videos. Loiek is a Youtuber who creates self-improvement videos and videos about her gap year in Europe. About a month after she started her channel in 2023, she began receiving messages from people who had seen her speaking Mandarin on Chinese social media platforms. “I could see my face and hear my voice. But it was all very creepy, because I saw myself saying things that I never said,” Loiek says. “I saw like 90% of the videos were talking about China and Russia, China-Russia friendship, that we have to be strong allies, as well as advertisements for food.” 

As a Ukrainian, Loiek is especially outraged by the videos which praise Russia and its ties to China. According to The New York Times, “the use of foreign faces to laud China also seeks to tap into a sense of national pride, or nationalism, among the Chinese audience… The women featured describe how accomplished Chinese men are, or plead to be rescued by them from poverty or their own less idyllic country.” 

Photo credit: BBC

The videos come at a time when the relationship between China and Russia has become significantly stronger. Although the countries have been partners for 75 years, the war against Ukraine has brought the two closer than ever. In May, Vlaimir Putin and Xi Jinping declared a “no-limits” partnership and a joint statement detailing their close alliance. According to NBC News, “though China has strived to portray itself as neutral in the conflict, it has provided Russia with diplomatic support as well as advanced technology with both civilian and military uses.”

The videos may go as far as to push the narrative that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is justified. “It is unclear whether these accounts were coordinating under a collective purpose, but promoting a message that is in line with the government’s propaganda definitely benefits them,” said Emmie Hine, a law and technology researcher from the University of Bologna and KU Leuven.

Photo credit: Wenhao Ma

Although many of these videos push a political agenda, others are simply marketing tools. Videos of AI-generated Russian women selling salt, chocolates, soap, and other products have become extremely popular and sold hundreds of thousands of items. 

These videos have raised major privacy concerns for social media users. Although China is one of the first countries to regulate AI, what happened to Olga is “very common in China,” according to Angela Zhang of the University of Hong Kong. The country is home to “a vast underground economy specialising in counterfeiting, misappropriating personal data, and producing deep fakes,” she says. Although China is one of the first countries to begin regulating AI, the industry is developing so quickly that these policies are extremely difficult to enforce. 

According to Ritu Singh of NDTV, “The YouTuber said she is ''100% sure'' that she will not be the last victim of generative AI, but she is doing her best to warn others.” Loiek says, “I wanted to share my story, I wanted to make sure that people will understand that not everything that you're seeing online is real. I love sharing my ideas with the world, and none of these fraudsters can stop me from doing that.''