Is this for real?
When it comes to social media in China, it can be hard to tell. The ruling Communist Party blocks Facebook and Twitter, but also uses both platforms in a bid to bolster the country's soft power abroad.
Between party-controlled media and government accounts, the tone of their English-language offerings ranges from earnest to awkward to oddly sexual. And this week, things took a turn for the surreal — and surfer.
On May 28, a Twitter account purporting to represent China's State Council Information Office, a real government body, went off-script, asking an account called @Tibetans, "Have u ever been to Tibet bro?"
The tone of the tweet is so strikingly at odds with the Communist Party's turgid pronouncements that China-watchers were at a loss. When scholar Tricia Kehoe asked the State Council Information Office if the Twitter account (@chinascio) was real, the office replied that it was just "trying to fit in," adding an "LOL" for good measure.
@triciamkehoe Trying to fit in here, if we use harsh words someone would say that "we are making threats here" LOL
— China SCIO (@chinascio) June 1, 2016
The replies to its tweets kept coming, prompting heated — and seemingly earnest — responses from @chinascio, which vigorously defended China's Tibet policy using words such as "dude" and "love" to the point that @GreatFire.org, a group that fights Chinese government censorship, tweeted, "go home State Council Information Office, you're drunk."
go home State Council Information Office, you're drunk pic.twitter.com/VgMv9i0zoz
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) May 31, 2016
Intrigued about the tweeters' identity, CNN's James Griffiths sent them some questions on Twitter. "We want to make China's voice heard," they said.
Asked by The Post about its recent tweets, someone at @chinascio said, via Twitter direct message, that the tone was set by Premier Li Keqiang at a recent meeting of the Asia News Network, and sent a link.
And their use of language, like "LOL and "Bro"? "We used LOL long before," the person replied.
It is still not clear whether the account represents the actual State Council Information Office or its views or if it's gone dramatically off-script. The SCIO's website links to the Twitter account. But, reached by phone, the office would not comment on the account, saying it needed a faxed request for comment. (No reply yet.)
The person fielding interview requests at @chinascio seemed resigned to the fact that people will wonder whether the office is trolling. "We understand the skepticism, and we will not try to convince people," the person wrote.
"The believers will believe."