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Overtaking Shakira: China’s Media Rules Facebook’s News

Chinese state media outlets rank alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Shakira, Coca-Cola and Justin Beiber in Facebook’s top 25 most followed list – raising questions about where its followers are coming from

Facebook owner Meta Platforms recorded its first ever quarterly drop in revenue on Wednesday, after reporting mixed results for user growth.
Facebook's top five followed media outlets - CGTN, China Daily, Xinhua News, People’s Daily and Global Times - are all China state run. File photo: Reuters.


China’s state media is dominating Facebook’s news despite its own citizens being blocked from using the app. 

Facebook’s top five most followed media outlets – CGTN, China Daily, Xinhua News, People’s Daily and Global Times – are all China state-run, data from US social media analytics website Socialblade showed.



They have a combined following of 475 million users. The next most liked, the UK’s BBC News, has 58 million. Followed by America’s CNN, with 34 million. 

Their enormous following puts them alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Shakira, Coca-Cola and Justin Beiber in Facebook’s top 25 list. Yet, none had more than 3 million followers in 2014. An improbable meteoric rise raises questions about where followers have come from. 


‘Extreme Disinformation’ 

Online censorship within China is considered among the most sophisticated in the world, known as the “Great Firewall.” 

Its government has blocked Facebook, Twitter and Google services since 2009, after deadly riots broke between its Muslim Uyghur and Chinese Han population in Xinjiang. The Western platforms were partly blamed for the event – enabling activists and rebels to communicate and organise violence.

Today, Chinese citizens are restricted to local alternatives such as Weibo and WeChat, which help its government to censor keywords, remove certain posts, and arrest users.

Meanwhile, China’s booming state media presence on Facebook is aimed at foreign audiences, dishing up pro-Chinese Communist Party messages in English. 

The majority of followers come from the global south, the Economist reported. In Mexico, Argentina, Algeria, Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, over one in ten Facebook users follow a Chinese state news-site. But in Europe and the US, less than one in 100 do. 

An investigation from British think-tank Center for Countering Digital Hate found that China’s media had used Facebook this year to post ‘extreme disinformation’ about Ukraine. 

This included claims that the US is profiting from Russia’s invasion, that NATO’s expansion is similar to Hitler’s goal to control Ukraine and that Ukraine President Vladymyr Zelensky is controlled by George Soros.


‘Call China Out’

The Economist suggests that China media’s Facebook fandom may come from fake accounts.

Its articles and posts have have an unusually low number of engagements considering its high follower count, suggesting many followers may be computer generated and not real users, it said.

Skyrocketing Facebook follower growth of five China state media accounts from under 3 million in 2014 to close to 100 million each today is unrealistic, it added, especially as younger users are moving away from Facebook to platforms like TikTok and Snapchat.

Even if true, China’s media is still collecting real life fans. 

Its media is rapidly opening up bureaus in developing countries, employing local journalists who would not typically be able to earn a living wage. China-owned TV station, StarTimes, now broadcasts global news from a Chinese perspective to over 30 African countries, based out of Kenya. 

Unlike western media, Chinese media also uses targeted facebook ads – in India, Kenya, Brazil, Croatia, Zimbabwe, the UK and the US – which are a call-to-action for users to like their page, Facebook Ad Library data showed.

“Facebook should have the courage to call China out,” Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the UK Defence Select Committee, previously said to TFI Global News

“It is being used as a virtual window to promote Chinese state thinking.” 


  • By Alfie Habershon



Read more:

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India Aims For More Decision Power on Social Media Content

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Alfie Habershon

Alfie is a Reporter at Asia Financial. He previously lived in Mumbai reporting on India's economy and healthcare for data journalism initiative IndiaSpend, as well as having worked for London based Tortoise Media.


AF China Bond