A ‘war of words’ has been raging as American and Chinese officials trade accusations of cyber espionage ahead of a sixth round of Strategic & Economic Dialogue July 9-10 Beijing.
For CQ Roll Call‘s Policy Insight Unit, Verifeed used its social analytics platform to analyze millions of Twitter conversations to understand what Americans are saying about cyber-security relating to Chinese companies operating in the U.S.
What we found was somewhat counterintuitive: American sentiment is more balanced than the “cool war’’ on trade would have us believe, at least during our one-week Snapshot in June.
Our investigation, to be given to Chinese and American officials in Beijing, sought to understand how American public opinion may impact trade talks and policy agreements, as well as China’s ambitious plans to grow its American investment portfolio.
So, as Americans tweeted, re-tweeted and influenced opinion as they shared news, ideas and recommendations, Verifeed’s powerful algorithms and processes captured insights about cyber threats and hacking, alleged theft by China of U.S. trade secrets, trade policies and more. And rather than simply take the aggregate temperature of public sentiment, Verifeed went deeper to understand the context of who steered opinion, who spread the word, and how opinions changed as a result.
The top 10 Influencers on cybersecurity directly engaged 63,564 people, influencing 239,162 in just one week, with only 10 tweets shared 22 times. The No. 1 Influencer has only 1,700 followers, yet he directly engaged 25,000 people. The top 10 Amplifiers – those that actively drive viral “word of mouth” – shared opinion and policy recommendations with 60,341 people.
Tweets reflected news coverage in the aftermath of the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal indictments of the five Chinese military officers on charges of cyber espionage, with a spike in activity on June 25 immediately upon U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus’ call for a crackdown on Chinese “cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets”. Other tweets focused on a Chinese smartphone with built-in spyware; news that the Chinese were caught hacking into a fake U.S. water plant; and how Chinese trade retaliation (a ban on U.S. tech firms doing business in China) could harm U.S. company profits.
Overall, U.S. public opinion was respectful of both U.S. and Chinese points of view. While more than 90 percent of tweets we analyzed in this period either directly asserted or assumed China was in fact actively hacking U.S. companies for intellectual property and trade secrets, Americans tweeting on the issue also clearly understood from the Edward Snowden revelations the widespread nature of cyber-spying on Chinese enterprises by the U.S. National Security Administration.
The CQ Roll Call and Verifeed reports comes after China suspended a Sino-American working group on cyber security issues and the U.S. indicted five Chinese military officers for hacking major American technology companies. While advocating for a bilateral investment treaty, U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus said on June 25 that Chinese cyber-theft threatens American national security. Relations were already strained by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread American cyber spying, including NSA infiltration of Huawei Technologies and others.