Twitter mocked for new rule targeting Chinese state-affiliated media

Society & Culture

Twitter thinks is an official Chinese government news source.

Kacper Pempel/Reuters

As part of its efforts to combat misinformation, Twitter has expanded its use of labels to identify content from Chinese state-affiliated media websites. The execution of the new move appears to be…wanting. 

On Wednesday morning, Twitter users noticed a modification to the previous labeling policy targeting Chinese state-affiliated media, which was strictly applied to posts belonging to some state-backed media organizations in China: The social media platform started flagging tweets from any individual accounts that include a URL from what it considers to be Chinese state-controlled media websites. 

The additional action also includes an extra checkpoint to keep users informed: When a person wants to like or share a tweet carrying the label that says “This Tweet links to a China state-affiliated media website,” they are given a warning message accompanied by an orange exclamation point encouraging the user to “help keep Twitter a place for reliable info.”  

The application of the label, however, is problematic due to its automatic nature: Users found out that any URL that ends with “” can trigger the label, regardless of its validity or actual affiliations with state media. Naturally, as with most Twitter errors that have been mocked in the past, some Twitter users started poking fun at the loophole by making up fake URLs with the domain name. 

Here’s a sample of tweets ridiculing the new policy:

Sixth Tone and Caixin, two well-respected news outlets that manage to consistently produce high-quality reporting despite the lack of press freedom in China, were also affected by the new rules. Disheartened by the categorization, Bibek Bhandari, a news editor at Sixth Tone, wrote on Twitter: “Ok, we’re finally slapped with this Twitter label. Regardless of the labeling, I highly recommend you to follow and read @SixthTone to stay informed on China stories you’re unlikely to read anywhere. We report with integrity, and try pushing the envelope as far as we can.”

The new changes are the latest step taken by Twitter to clamp down on Chinese state disinformation campaigns that aim to manipulate the conversation around the country’s foreign policies and social issues. In 2020, after banning state-backed media advertising and political advertising, Twitter introduced the policy labeling “accounts of key government officials, including foreign ministers, institutional entities, ambassadors, official spokespeople, and key diplomatic leaders,” and “accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff.” 

Twitter’s move also comes after the company rolled out new measures to prevent disinformation tied to the Russian government and its invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to add cautionary labels to tweets that include links to media sites affiliated with the Russian state and vowed to minimize the visibility of those tweets. A string of big tech companies such as Facebook and Google followed suit

In contrast, TikTok, the Chinese-owned social network that is popular in the U.S., still allows pro-Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war to flourish on its site.