The Washington Free Beacon just published the findings of an investigation into American social media companies and their handling of Chinese government propaganda and misinformation which is routinely distributed on their platforms.
An investigation reportedly run by House Foreign Affairs Committee leader Rep. Michael McCaul used Congressional resources to examine how CCP figures use different platforms, and what policies each have in place to mark the information as propaganda, or censor it all together.
Surprisingly, even the most stringent websites handled the Chinese propaganda with a light touch, even as they continued to crack down on conservative voices and media organizations. Just today, Facebook removed a Trump campaign ad for using a symbol that a group of left-wing activists claimed to be a “Nazi symbol” (albeit one most Americans, and most Jews, probably wouldn’t recognize). Twitter, meanwhile, refuses to remove even tweets with patently false claims, like CCP officials claiming the coronavirus originated in the US.
The House investigators found that of all the major social media platforms, Twitter does the worst job of policing CCP propaganda and the accounts that share it.
While average Chinese citizens are blocked from using the site, party officials are inexplicably given verification status by the company (earning the coveted blue checkmarks). When informed about specific violations, the company did nothing to remedy them.
Twitter emerged as the most abused platform and also the one with the least oversight. While the company cooperated with McCaul’s probe, it did not remove any of the propaganda posts identified by the congressional investigators.
“Despite a willingness to discuss HFAC Minority staff concerns, Twitter does not appear to have removed any CCP disinformation from its platform nor made any meaningful policy changes in response to our concerns to prevent the CCP from spreading propaganda on its platform,” according to the investigation. “Moreover, Twitter does not label or provide transparency about the nature and operations of CCP propaganda outlets. Rather, it legitimizes them by allowing them to operate as verified users.”
Remember, this is the same company where a “low-level” employee threatened to delete a Senator’s account – permanently – if he didn’t delete a tweet over his use of the phrase “no quarter”, which is apparently inappropriate (although a quick twitter search finds hundreds of usages of the term, if not thousands).
While average Chinese citizens are blocked from accessing Twitter due to the country’s strict censorship policies, Communist Party officials are often verified by the website, providing legitimacy to their claims. McCaul’s team maintains this violates Twitter’s own policies barring individuals and organizations guilty of gross human rights violations from operating accounts on the site.
Additionally, Twitter does not equally apply its rules. Prominent conservatives, including Trump, have had their content censored or removed in recent months. But Chinese officials and news outlets are not held to a similar standard.
The Congressional staffers described Twitter as almost deliberately uncooperative, and the most unwilling to check the CCP figures ability to share whatever they feel on the platform, even if they’re, say, spreading conspiracy theories that the coronavirus originated in the US, or was brought to China deliberately by the American military.
“Of all the companies we engaged with, Twitter is the platform most heavily abused by the CCP,” investigators found. “Twitter only applied a factcheck label to the Tweet about the virus originating with the U.S. military after it had been on the platform for more than a month.
They are the most unwilling to do anything to stop the CCP from spreading harmful misinformation or provide transparency through labels that inform users they are viewing content from a state-funded or state-directed media outlet.”
Twitter has said that it will only fact-check tweets from prominent voices, such as the president. Congressional investigators remain concerned that China does not rank as a top priority for the website.
YouTube also earned a low score (a C-, compared to Twitter’s D-) for similar failures. Though at least YouTube labels Chinese propaganda accounts as government propaganda.
YouTube demonstrated similar failures. It does not block communist officials and news outlets or remove their materials. YouTube does, however, attempt to fact-check and police this content for inaccuracies.
“YouTube does label videos by CCP propaganda outlets, but the labeling is inconsistent,” according to the report.
In many cases, YouTube failed to label CCP content as propaganda and did not provide viewers with complete information about the biased nature of these videos.
Facebook earned the best score during the investigation – a C+ – due to the company’s consistency in labeling propaganda as “state-funded information”, making it clear to readers that these are media companies controlled by the Chinese government.
Facebook also allows several Chinese state-controlled propaganda organs to freely post misinformation, potentially reaching millions of Americans. These outlets include China Daily, Xinhua, and CGTN, all of which are leading purveyors of Chinese government-approved propaganda.
Facebook received the highest grade awarded, a C+, due to its efforts to specifically inform readers they are consuming state-funded information. It still permits these outlets to freely post content on its site, however.
Facebook does not “currently plan to take down content flagged by the staff or take sufficient action to prevent the CCP from using Facebook to spread propaganda and lies about COVID-19,” according to the report.
The investigation is part of a broader effort by Congressional Republicans to crack down on Chinese propaganda in the US, which doesn’t exactly fit with John Bolton’s claim that Trump kowtowed to President Xi and offered to sell out China’s Muslims and the confidence of the American public for some help during the upcoming election.