State Media Outlets Are Crushing It on Facebook

Since Hu Jintao’s push to promote external propaganda in the late 2000s, Chinese leaders have sought to utilize new English-language state media platforms to tell the “Great China Story” to the world and promote a positive image abroad. Efforts in this direction include campaigns to discredit Western media in the eyes of the Chinese public as well as the reported recruitment of Western public relations firms to help project China’s soft power overseas. At Quartz, Heather Timmons and Josh Horwitz look at the unusually large fan base that Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has amassed on Facebook—despite the fact that the site has been blocked in China since 2009—and the potential consequences for its users.

They just joined in recent years, so this growth is nothing short of phenomenal. But it raises some serious questions—first, how did they do it? And second, how will the spread of Communist Party propaganda impact how ’s 1.6 billion users view the world?

[…] The phenomenal growth could be totally organic, said Josh Steimle, the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing company. Given the number of Chinese overseas and the amount of people in China who may be accessing Facebook through a VPN, there’s millions of potential fans right there.

[…] Some critics though, wonder if more nefarious activities are at work. “Many people suspect that it is possible that they are paying for their fans,” William Long, a prominent technology blogger wrote (link in Chinese) late last year.

[…]  For one thing, the situation puts Facebook in a dilemma. Clamping down on Chinese state media’s fans, if they are in fact fake, is going to show that the Communist Party’s “reach” into the Western world is nowhere near as vast as it believes. (Foreign companies hoping to do more business in China generally go out of their way to avoid insulting Beijing.) Failing to crack down on fake fans would go against Facebook’s stated principles and puts publishers in the rest of the world at a disadvantage. [Source]

In an attempt to win access to the Chinese market where Facebook is currently blocked, CEO has engaged in a charm offensive aimed at winning Beijing’s goodwill. In a visit to the country this March, Zuckerberg met with China’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan and jogged through Tiananmen Square despite heavy pollution. His actions, seen as an effort to pander to the Chinese government, have been widely criticized online, prompting authorities to order domestic media to “control malicious commentary on Facebook founder [Mark] Zuckerberg’s visit to China.” For years, Chinese netizens have referred to Facebook by its Chinese transliteration of “surely must die,” a nickname that speaks to the social media giant’s current status in China as a censored website that can only be accessed with circumvention tools.

Elsewhere, BBC reports that Facebook has won a trademark case in China this week against a local firm that registered “face book” as its brand name. The win comes just one week after Apple lost its legal battle over the use of the “iPhone” trademark.

The court said the firm had “violated moral principles” with “obvious intention to duplicate and copy from another high-profile trademark”.

The Zhongshan Pearl River company had registered the name in 2014.

[…] The court statement – released on 28 April but not widely covered in English – has led Chinese local media to speculate whether Beijing’s hardline stance against Facebook might soften.

[…] “This appears to have been a case of ‘squatting’, which … involves a Chinese company registering the name of a high-profile Western business in order to benefit by forcing the company to either buy it back or take the matter to court,” he said.

“This ruling demonstrates that courts are beginning to take this problem seriously. This is all the more interesting, as Facebook is currently barred from operating in China.” [Source]