Days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, eyes turned to the Chinese internet, scouring social media for clues. How would China — not only the state, but its people — respond to a war started by the nation’s chief “strategic partner?” With no reliable polling, you’d imagine that social media might be a useful gauge for both. The reality is more complicated.

Social media provides a warped lens into public sentiment. This is no less true in China, where, over the past decade, the systematic suppression of liberal voices on social media — and the amplification of nationalist ones — has provided the oxygen for patriotic accounts to run rampant.