Nieman Foundation at Harvard
The News Lens in Taiwan is doing what media startups in the region hesitate to do — acquiring other sites
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Nov. 8, 2017, 11:46 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   November 8, 2017

It’s no secret Facebook has been trying to make its way into China.

Mark Zuckerberg is painfully learning Chinese. He’s put himself through a jog in Tiananmen Square under an extremely smoggy sky. Facebook has worked on censorship tools with the aim of appealing to the Chinese government. It’s tried a photo-sharing app “Colorful Balloons,” that doesn’t bear its name. It’s looked for office space in Shanghai. To no avail, at least not yet: Facebook’s still officially blocked there.

But Chinese media agencies are all over Facebook, and spending big to target English-speaking audiences on the platform the country has blocked its people from using, according to a report from The New York Times. (Testifying before Congress last week, Facebook’s general counsel said “to his knowledge” China hadn’t meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections the way Russia-linked groups had.)

Each quarter China’s government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company’s revenue streams….

While China’s propaganda channels on Facebook are not nearly as subtle as Russian groups when it comes to influencing opinion, their techniques are nonetheless instructive.

Rather than divisive advertisements, many of the Chinese Facebook posts replicate the sort of news propaganda delivered at home: articles stressing China’s stability and prosperity mixed with posts highlighting chaos and violence in the rest of the world.

A similar blend of stories — pandas and idyllic Chinese landscapes next to heavy coverage of the mass shooting in Texas — has proliferated across China’s official Facebook channels in the lead-up to President Trump’s visit to Beijing, which began on Wednesday.

While much of it is unlikely to sway the average American’s mind, such posts reach people across the world, many of whom are newer to the internet and may have a less sophisticated understanding of media. China’s state media has Facebook channels dedicated to Africa and other regions of the world, and it seems evident that it is offering itself as an alternative to the Western media for a more global audience.

The Times story lists other examples of effective Facebook posts: A man-on-the-street video by Xinhua news agency (which, by the way, has a mere 31 million followers on Facebook) that evolves into cuts of people criticizing the United States for arrogance and meddling.

China has been in the headlines a couple of other times this week for its influence on American media companies. Its news (and other content) platform Toutiao tried to buy Reddit last year, The Information reported. (Toutiao is a $20 billion company.) China’s Tencent — maker of messaging giant WeChat — took a 12 percent stake in Snap, parent company of Snapchat.

Facebook wants desperately to be in China; these Chinese platforms are certainly looking to expand beyond China.

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