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.
Among Facebook’s 25 most-liked accounts, four are Chinese party-state media outlets.
There are no other media outlets in the top 25. pic.twitter.com/p6anguVeFl
— Fergus Ryan (@fryan) November 23, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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