China

Who’s behind this mysterious Chinese tech publication?

Dot Dot Stand says little about its origins. But Tencent’s fingerprints are all over it.

Screenshot of Dot Dot Stand

Dot Dot Stand appears to be operated by Tencent’s public relations arm.

Screenshot: Protocol

With about 13,000 Twitter followers, Dot Dot Stand looks like a promising new publication covering China’s technology trends. It reports on breaking news, offers data analyses and writes enterprise stories on Chinese tech companies like Tencent, ByteDance and Alibaba. It describes itself as “a third-party tech blog” with no stated institutional affiliations that "hope[s] to provide you with more interesting and insightful Chinese tech news."

But there’s a twist: According to information collected by Protocol, Dot Dot Stand appears to be operated by Tencent’s public relations arm, raising questions about the company’s marketing practices and showcasing how Chinese companies with an international footprint are increasingly trying to steer coverage abroad.

While Dot Dot Stand, which started publishing in January 2021, has never explicitly associated itself with tech behemoth Tencent, it has written about the company a lot. It has published 35 articles on its website with topics ranging from Chinese tech companies’ corporate social responsibility projects to explaining what’s happening at ByteDance or Alibaba, Tencent’s rival companies. 19 of them include a few paragraphs about Tencent, with most mentions positive.

Aside from Twitter, Dot Dot Stand also has accounts on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. It has a sizable following on Twitter that includes many respectable China reporters and technologists; its other social channels have only managed to attract a smattering of interest.

Dot Dot Stand differs from most media outlets in the paucity of information it makes available. There’s no “about us” page on its website, nor any contact email or phone number. None of its articles carry a byline, an approach that differs from most media publications, although it is not necessarily unethical and is shared by respected outlets like The Economist.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of hints about the outlet’s origins. Dot Dot Stand’s Facebook account lists the email of a Tencent employee as its contact. The email likely belongs to Zhou Yunpeng, who joined Tencent as a full-time public relations specialist in December 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Zhou did not reply to Protocol’s request for comment. But on June 15, Zhou self-published a story about how Tencent, a game-developing powerhouse, is fighting against overwork in the video game industry. Five days later, the same story appeared on Dot Dot Stand’s Instagram account. Zhou also gave one of only two “likes” to a LinkedIn post that said Dot Dot Stand was inviting feedback.

The font Dot Dot Stand uses frequently is a font designed for Tencent's corporate use. Screenshot: Protocol

Zhou’s not the only Tencent PR employee who appears to be involved. Ren Yifan, a senior public relations manager at Tencent since July 2020, is in a Facebook group whose only two members are her and Dot Dot Stand. She’s also one of Dot Dot Stand’s first followers on Instagram. Another person who worked as a public relations intern at Tencent from December 2020 to April 2021 lists Dot Dot Stand’s Instagram handle on her LinkedIn contact info page. These details suggest Dot Dot Stand is an elaborate effort executed by Tencent’s PR professionals.

The site’s look and coverage is subtly, but unmistakably, favorable to Tencent. Many of Dot Dot Stand’s visuals use a typeface called TTTGB, one exclusively designed for Tencent. A significant number of articles published on the website speak of Tencent favorably, praising its annual charity giving event or interviewing Tencent employees.

Sometimes the Tencent plugs are unsubtle. Halfway into a story about a Chinese entrepreneur in Africa, the article turns to discuss how the entrepreneur’s company benefited from the adoption of WeCom, WeChat, Tencent Cloud and Tencent Qidian — all productivity tools developed by Tencent.

Tencent did not reply to Protocol’s repeated requests for comment asking whether it has any connection to Dot Dot Stand.

Since it’s published exclusively in English, Dot Dot Stand appears to be a part of the company’s global messaging strategy. As Chinese tech giants increasingly expand outside the country’s borders, they are looking to shape the coverage about them elsewhere. The one message that repeatedly appears in Dot Dot Stand’s articles is “tech for good,” which emphasizes the positive social impact that tech companies can create. That has also been Tencent’s corporate slogan since 2019.

Dot Dot Stand has managed to sprinkle in a bit of pro-Tencent coverage into the English language, but the lack of full transparency about who’s behind the outlet could backfire. “Consumers increasingly expect and demand transparency in their relationships with brands and media companies,” Bill Duggan, group executive vice president at the Association of National Advertisers, told Protocol. “Transparency enhances trust. Lack of transparency undermines it.”

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