How will Facebook deal with Beijing’s propaganda on Xinjiang?

Business & Technology

Facebook employees are raising concerns about the Chinese government’s use of ad money to promote propaganda about happy Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Wall Street Journal reports. Might Facebook eventually follow Twitter in restricting political advertisements in response?

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Starting in 2019, in response to widespread international attention to the Hong Kong protests, Beijing began to much more vigorously use Western social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to push its message.

On Facebook in particular, Chinese state media continue to spend to promote propaganda, including about the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This has caused unease among employees and a quandary for the company’s leadership, the Wall Street Journal reports:

  • “Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns,” but the company is “watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang.”
  • An employee on an internal company group for Muslim staff recently made a “plea” to leadership to fight misinformation, making note of Twitter’s more proactive approach. Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, responded that the issue is “incredibly serious” and said the company would “check with our integrity teams for a status update.”
  • “The advertisements and posts by the Chinese government and state media include videos of people in Xinjiang, including some children, proclaiming to the camera that their lives are improving and that Western nations are engaging in a plot to try to destabilize China.”
  • China’s state broadcaster CGTN has “more than 115 million followers” on Facebook, the “fourth-most in the world, surpassing the likes of Coca-Cola and pop star Rihanna.”

The amount of money spent is small so far, but the dilemma for Facebook is this: As the Beijing 2022 Olympics come closer — with many groups campaigning for boycotts over Xinjiang — if Chinese state media outlets flood Facebook with ad money, can the company accept it? Or would the public, or possibly internal, backlash be too much, and would Facebook follow Twitter in restricting political advertisements in response?

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