Twitter Helps China Push Agenda Abroad Despite Ban in Mainland
Comment of the Day

August 21 2019

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Twitter Helps China Push Agenda Abroad Despite Ban in Mainland

This article by Shelly Banjo and Sarah Frier for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

China’s ambassador to the U.S. tweeted that “radical protesters” were eroding the rule of law embraced by the #silentmajority of Hong Kongers. The Chinese Mission to the United Nations’ Twitter account asked protesters to “stop the violence, for a better #Hong Kong,” while social media accounts of Chinese embassies in Manila, India and the Maldives shared articles from China’s state media blaming Westerners for disrupting the city. “Separatists in Hong Kong kept in close contact with foreign elements,” one story says above a photo of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“We know China is adept at controlling domestic information, but now they are trying to use Western platforms like Twitter to control the narrative on the international stage,” said Jacob Wallis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre.

It’s unclear if any of these diplomats were set up on the service by Twitter, but the state-backed attempt to discredit Hong Kong protesters continues to reach millions of global Twitter users. In many cases, the Chinese officials are promoting views similar to those in 936 accounts Twitter banned on Monday.

The practice of supporting Chinese officials who use Twitter to spread the Communist Party agenda highlights how difficult it is for the social media company to balance its commitment to root out disinformation and to allow the expression of varying opinions. It also raises concerns around why Twitter is helping Beijing make its case to a global audience when the service is banned in China, where dissenting voices are prohibited and officials sometimes detain users accessing the platform through virtual private networks.

Eoin Treacy's view

While in China last week my daughter and I tried a number of different apps to see if they worked on public wifi. Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter etc do not work. In fact, no English language search works on any browser with any kind of regularity. However, less well-known but popular social media apps like iFunny, Discord and Ameno seem to work fine. TikTok is an interesting case because it has a Chinese version which is completely independent of the English language version following Bytedance’s acquisition of Musically last year.

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