And so the threats begin… Twenty-four hours after Facebook and Twitter cut down a massive disinformation campaign operated by the Chinese state against pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, the first report has emerged from Asia of “repercussions” as China looks to get even. The social media platforms are banned in China—what’s at stake are the billions in ad revenue generated from Chinese companies targeting audiences overseas.
The report in Wednesday’s South China Morning Post, an outlet that is not state-controlled but has strong PRC insights, cited analysts claiming “advertising revenue the two platforms earn in the world’s second-largest economy could now be at risk as Chinese companies looking to expand overseas reassess the situation.”
On Monday, I reported that China has been paying Twitter to run ads attacking the Hong Kong protesters—the language being used was highly-charged and drew parallels between the protesters and terrorists. It soon became clear that the same disinformation campaign was running on Facebook as well.
To their credit, both social media platforms acted quickly and forcefully.
Twitter acknowledged the “significant state-backed information operation,” on its platform, “focused on the situation in Hong Kong,” suspending 936 accounts “from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” The accounts were found to be promoting “political discord” and “undermining the legitimacy” of the protest movement. Twitter went as far as to say “we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”