HandsOn Accused of Being Brainwashed by the CIA

By The Herring Team

Collage by Anna Sazonov

Every month HandsOn, AUC’s philanthropy committee, raises awareness about topical issues or charities. April’s awareness post focused on the treatment of Uyghurs in China—a situation described as “crimes against humanity” by the Human Rights Watch. However, the awareness post and the information it displayed generated quite some controversy on HandsOn’s Instagram account. 

After having published an Instagram post containing information on the Uyghurs on April 5, HandsOn’s account was flooded with comments from people who accused the committee of being “brainwashed by the CIA” and spreading Western propaganda. Many of the commenters are not affiliated with AUC, but a few AUC students did express their discontent with the information given in the post.

Comments on the original @HandsOn post on Uyghurs (names removed for privacy reasons)

The original post was soon removed. The main issue seemed to be the last slide of the post, which encouraged students to help by boycotting all companies associated with Uyghur labour and to join protests. The commenters disapproved of the slide, as they argued that it motivated people to sabotage companies and facilities without doing their own research, as well as potentially contributing to “fuel Asian hate,” as one person wrote.

The awareness post has now been re-published without the last slide and with additional links to sources. Still, some commenters question why only Western voices are disclosed in the post and why it focuses on all the nations who have condemned China’s treatment of the Uyghurs even though some countries have defended China’s human rights records and signed a UN document in which they support China’s policies in Xinjiang. Countries in support of China include Algeria, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Comment on the updated @HandsOn post (name removed for privacy reasons)

World leaders tend to refrain from using the word ‘genocide’ because of the weight it carries, rather opting for terms such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘crimes against humanity’. However, several governments have declared the Chinese treatment of Uyghurs a genocide after allegations of torture, forced labour, and sexual abuse emerged. China has denied these claims, saying that the camps are re-education facilities.

Regardless, many Western countries have imposed sanctions against four top Chinese officials  and the “Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau” over the human rights abuses. These sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes and were introduced as a coordinated effort by the European Union, the UK, the US, and Canada. China retaliated by imposing sanctions on five European Parliament members, three members of national parliaments, two researchers, the entire Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, the think tank Mercator Institute of China Studies and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation.

This is not the first time a dispute like this has occurred among AUC students on an online platform. Every once in a while,  something controversial appears on Facebook groups and Instagram accounts connected to the AUC community and sparks heated discussions. While it remains to be seen whether HandsOn works for the CIA (since this information is, of course, classified), the situation in China should be discussed, and controversial topics should not stay unaddressed in the AUC community for fear of reproval or criticism.

HandsOn did not wish to comment on the reception of April’s awareness post.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that “China retaliated by imposing the same sanctions on European Parliament members.” To avoid equating the measures of the EU and China, the scope of the Chinese measures has now been clarified in the article.

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