This Is Why A Conspiracy Theory About The Clintons Has Gone Viral In China

In a world devoid of debunkers and fact-checkers, conspiracy theories — like the one saying a DNC staffer was murdered for leaking emails — can go big in China.

WikiLeaks and Russian state media have heavily pushed a conspiracy theory about the Clintons' role in the death of a DNC employee, one that a Chinese government account not only has bought into but embellished further.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last week suggested the possibility that Seth Rich, a DNC staffer working on voter outreach who was shot and killed in DC weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention, was an informant for WikiLeaks. Conspiracy sites suggested Rich was involved in the leak of DNC emails and files, although US intelligence officials linked the leak to a likely Russian hack. (Rich's parents have called upon the press to stop politicizing their son's death, according to Business Insider.)

The Communist Youth League, the Chinese Communist Party's youth wing, told its 4 million followers on Weibo Saturday, "The sources of the Hillary leaked emails were murdered, one after another? This is the truth of Western democracy!"

The post didn't provide details about how the league supposedly confirmed that Rich's death was politically motivated. Instead, it claimed that businesses and other capitalists control the media and politics in Western countries, using as proof an article first published by the Liaowang Institution, a think tank affiliated with the country's state-run Xinhua News.

Among the more than 3,000 comments the post received, most people bought the theory completely.

"The killing has started before [Clinton] becomes president, what will happen afterwards? Horrifying," commented one user.

Some expressed relief that they live in a safer society.

"Horrible, it's so great to live in China," another commented.

And those few who dared to challenge the theory in the comments triggered a firm response.

"'Hillary incident' was originally exposed in the US, don't tell me you don't know. Facts are facts, believe it or not," another user said, referring to the DNC hack.

Zhang Daxi, a Weibo user verified as "public opinion usher" (people who are hired by the government to write comments supportive of the government and its policies), wrote, "Baby is scared! Five bizarre deaths of anti-Hillary people in six weeks, the whistle-blowers of the Hillary email leak gate were assassinated one after another, the horror of US politics is beyond your imagination."

("Baby" is slang that the Chinese-speaking world uses to refer to oneself.)

If you didn't catch it the first time, you must be confused by this point: five bizarre deaths? Murders one after another? What? Qué? なに? 啥?

tl;dr: A meme is circulating around the US that points to the ~suspicious~ deaths of people around the Clintons, including several debunked conspiracy theories.

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With few outlets offering a counter narrative, the theories are being passed around China completely unchecked.

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“Anywhere in the world it can be a challenge to sort fact from fiction on the Internet, but in China the problem has a unique dimension, given the relative absence of reliable information, especially on issues involving the government," wrote Yu Hua, a famous Chinese author, for the New York Times.

Fang Kecheng, a former Southern Weekly journalist who currently researches Chinese political communication at the University of Pennsylvania, described the social media environment in China as "shit-like," in which unverified yet sensational information floods the system beyond anyone's control.

"I'm not promising that Clinton is flawless, maybe she will be exposed as having serious problems, but what I am sure of is that the sources of the conspiracy theories aren't reliable, that the information environment the Chinese people are living in is contaminated," Fang wrote in a WeChat post.

"I'm not surprised that the Youth League posted this," Fang told BuzzFeed News, saying that the post was basically clickbait. "Its content is always like that, with the basic point being that the Chinese system works much better than Western democracy."

"The Youth League has always been working around young people, so it has certain reason to be active on the internet," Fang said. The Youth League is also more desperate for relevance than other Chinese government arms — it's facing harsh reforms that may undermine its legitimacy as a supply pool of future leaders and is in a fight for its survival. In that environment, trying to appeal to the internet generation might be the league's last resort to keep its political status and resources.

In theory, Chinese officials treat rumors seriously: A rumor retweeted 500 times can lead to jail time if it's proven to be unfounded.

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And China's online news outlets are ordered to verify their social media–based stories before publishing. But that doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to rumors about foreign politicians, especially when the powerful Youth League is the one doing the posting.

All of which leads to posts like this one: "Just a thought: so many presidents were assassinated in the US's history, those definitely weren't simple assassinations."

Hmmmm, yes, a very deep thought.