Facebook has had no reservations about censoring conservative accounts. Yet, it allows accounts of state-controlled propaganda outlets from the genocidal regime of China to flourish. Forty accounts on Facebook, amassing over 751 million followers, are managed by Chinese state-controlled media outlets. For comparison, 751 million is over six times (6.39x) more followers than CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, ABC News, NBC News, The Washington Post and CBS News have combined (roughly 117,500,000) on Facebook.
Facebook has taken down disinformation networks tied to Iranian state-controlled media and removed accounts belonging to Russian state-controlled media. It has even removed media accounts not labeled state-controlled media — albeit not very many — purportedly linked to China’s government and to China-based hackers. But Facebook has given Chinese state-controlled media a pass to push propaganda no matter how outlandish the claims made in their posts.
Thirty-seven of the 40 Facebook accounts identified by the Media Research Center (MRC) as belonging to Chinese state-controlled media have corresponding accounts on Twitter. There they were labeled “state-affiliated” media. The MRC found that Facebook only labeled 23 out of the 40 accounts on its platform which were identified as being run by Chinese state-controlled media — a blatant violation of its policy on identifying accounts run by state-controlled media outlets.
- A seven-month long investigation by the Associated Press and Oxford Internet Institute found China’s rise in influence on Twitter and Facebook has been propelled by inauthentic and manufactured user engagement.
- Facebook has allowed Chinese state-controlled media to push inaccurate and dubious claims with little to no repercussions. China has used its arm of state-controlled media agencies to curate Facebook posts that dispute Western criticisms against the genocidal regime. Frequently, China has also used its posts to attempt to stir discord in American politics.
- China has used its state-controlled media presence on Facebook to rationalize, justify and legitimize its human rights violations against various religious and political minorities. A large portion of these posts are devoted to rebuking accusations of egregious human rights violations against the country’s Muslim minority Uyghurs living in China’s Northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
- Facebook has also allowed China to use its state-controlled media presence on the platform to push propaganda aimed at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters and activists. Posts on the platform have been used to build support around China’s authoritarian crackdown in Hong Kong.
China Uses Facebook to Gaslight the World
The U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom have all called evidence of China’s “human rights violations and abuses” against Uyghur Muslims “overwhelming.” But Facebook accounts run by China tell a different story. Chinese state-controlled media have pushed a narrative on Facebook justifying its regime’s genocidal actions toward Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim.
Chinese state-controlled media has used Facebook to gaslight the world on its crimes against humanity, which include arbitrary imprisonment, mass surveillance, torture, forced sterilization, coerced abortions, forced labor and persecution of Uyghurs and members of other religious, ethnic and political minority groups.
“#China’s de-extremism measures have pulled many people back from the brink of terrorism,” read a post from Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times. The post accused the “U.S.-led West” of killing terrorists “without taking any effective measures to save them,” insinuating that China does more to protect human rights than its accusers. Another post, this one from China Global TV Network (CGTN), rationalized China’s genocidal actions: “Yes, What Xinjiang did to fight terrorism does not conform to Western values, but it worked.”
Even Facebook’s own employees have voiced concerns that the company has been used as a conduit for Chinese propaganda, The Wall Street Journal (The WSJ) reported. That problem centered on Facebook advertisements from Chinese accounts that purport to show the economic success and happiness of Uyghurs living in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
China Uses Facebook to Push Disinformation About Human Rights Abuses
Facebook’s employees were incensed “Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang.” A worker at Facebook declared in an internal company message board: “It’s time our platform takes action to fight misinformation on the Uighur genocide,” according to The WSJ.
Facebook accounts run by Chinese state-controlled media have used videos, images and commentary about Uyghurs to construct a narrative of happiness and economic achievement. China has also used its state media’s presence on Facebook to justify its arbitrary detentions and other genocidal actions on Facebook by framing them as help. A post from China Plus Culture retold the alleged story of “a young Uyghur woman” who “walked away from a life of violence and extremism thanks to one of China's vocational education and training centers.”
A video embedded in another post from China Plus Culture chronicled a young Uyghur woman’s time in one of China’s so-called “vocational training centers.” The woman remarked in the video that throughout her time in the camp, during which she was forced to perfect her Mandarin speaking skills and learn about Chinese law, her “thinking has improved.”
China Daily, another state-controlled media outlet on Facebook, curated a post celebrating the purported success of China’s “vocational education and training centers” in Xinjiang. The outlet claimed in its post that the centers “have been effective in eliminating conditions that foster terrorism and religious extremism,” according to an unnamed white paper. In a different post another one of China’s mouthpieces, CGTN, attempted to justify the genocidal nation’s arbitrary detention, and deflect accusations of forced sterilization. “After graduating from a vocational training center in Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Tudigul Nur landed a job in her native village. She had a daughter after graduating, who will soon turn a year old,” claimed CGTN in the post.
Facebook posts from accounts run by Chinese state-controlled media have been used to discredit accusations that China is using techniques of forced sterilization to keep the Uyghur population low. Other posts aim to discredit and deflect accusations that China is forcing Uyghurs into abusive labor programs and forcibly separating Uyghur children from their families.
Chinese state-controlled media has also tried legitimizing its crackdown on Uyghurs by depicting them as terrorists, and attempting to portray communist China as the saving grace that rescues the minority from lives of poverty and Muslim extremism. “Even children have to learn violence from terrorists in Xinjiang,” said a Facebook post from Chinese mouthpiece China Global Television Network America (CGTN-America). The post appeared to show a man — allegedly a member of the Uyghur separatist group known as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) — teaching a child how to shoot a sidearm.
Omer Kanat, the Executive Director of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, spoke to The WSJ after the U.S. removed ETIM from its list of designated terrorist organizations. He called “China’s exploitation of the imagined ‘ETIM’” a real threat that has led to “20 years of state terror directed at Uighurs,” according to The WSJ. Other posts from Chinese propaganda accounts on Facebook claim ETIM is “[t]raining child terrorists on China's frontier.”
China Uses Facebook to Promote Authoritarian Crackdown on Hong Kong
China has also used its massive following on Facebook to attempt to paint its authoritarian crackdown on Hong Kong in a positive light. “It is totally untrue and biased to say that the Hong Kong National Security Law has had a chilling effect on the exercise of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong," alleged China Daily in a story linked to a Facebook post.
The post rebuked European criticisms of China’s authoritarian crackdown against Hong Kong. However, “[m]ore than 50 of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists” were arrested for attempting to “run an unofficial ‘primary’ election to pick opposition candidates” for Hong Kong’s 2020 elections, according to the BBC.
China claimed the activists were attempting to “overthrow” the government, the BBC reported. A post from Chinese propaganda outlet CGTN said the accused had committed “conspiracy to commit subversion” for simply attempting to pick opposition candidates to run against Beijing’s candidates.
Chinese propaganda accounts also created posts meant to frame the democracy protesters in a poor light. “Hong Kong protesters threw objects from an overpass, requiring police officers to fire tear gas, even though children and the elderly were present,” read a post.