Since 2009, Facebook has been blocked in China. Official media of the Chinese government labeled Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as “tools of propaganda used by Western hostile forces to destabilize China,” and stating that it was “necessary to secure the ability to block and fight back against online attacks.”
In the second quarter of 2017, Facebook’s active users had exceeded 2 billion. Although Mainland China’s Internet users cannot access this global social media, the Chinese government is its biggest advertiser in Asia. China uses these advertisements to spread its propaganda to the international community.
As U.S. President Donald Trump visited China in November, China and the Chinese government’s propaganda work became the focus of attention.
A report by The New York Times quoted an insider as saying that each quarter, the Chinese government would spend hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars buying advertisements on Facebook.
China uses Facebook as an effective tool to spread its propaganda and influence international public opinion about China.
When opening either the Facebook page of China Central Television (CCTV) or the Xinhua News Agency, the official government news agency of China, one finds thousands of English-language posts made for English readers.
These posts replicate the news broadcast inside China, stressing the “prosperity and stable social condition” within the country, while highlighting the so-called “turmoil and violence” in other parts of the world.
At the same time, a Harvard study estimated that as many as 488 million social media posts are fabricated by the Chinese government each year in an effort to distract attention from sensitive issues.
Although China says it wants to be open to the world, it keeps a tight grip on Chinese people’s access to social media such as Facebook in an effort to block foreign influence while using the same social media in an effort to extend its influence to foreign countries.
The official Chinese news media have also set up channels especially for African countries on Facebook, seeming to indicate that China intends to provide an alternative to Western media in an attempt to attract a broader global audience.
Such content is unlikely to affect the perceptions of most Americans, but those who do not understand how news media are manipulated might be misguided by them.