The use of social media to reach out to the world with real or fake news has been there for ages. In any case, there are hundreds of people accessing various social media platforms compared to those accessing the written content. As the world wakes up to the eleventh week of Hong Kong’s protests, Twitter has come under criticism for reportedly distributing sponsored posts.
The targeted ads placed by China’s state media Xinhua news agency, attacked the protesters while blaming the campaigners for fuelling the unrest. This is according to a social-media bookmarking site, Pinboard. One of the many tweets read, “the escalating violence in Hong Kong has taken a heavy toll on the social order… all walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”
Other tweets, including a video have outlined what seems like a deteriorating Hong Kong’s economy. However, there is no direct link of the bad economy to the protests. What remains a surprise is that these and other similar tweets have different news from what other news outlets outside China are reporting.
The protesters are demanding equality and accountability by the government. This is about a policy, which identifies a single government across all regions of China. There have been massive consequences resulting from the protests, including violence between the protesters and police officers. This is in addition to airport violence, which left hundreds of passengers stranded as airlines canceled flights.
The Chinese government has a general suppression of social media, which includes Twitter and Facebook. Previously, the U.S. Department of Justice has referred to China’s Xinhua News Agency as “foreign agents.” Its mission is comparable to that of an unabashed propagandist across Western social media outlets.
Any news agency would endorse the interests of their state-controllers. However, not through a social media platform to deliver a specific message. This is what Twitter is doing and, to many people, the tweets are no different from Russian electoral interference. As the situation continues to unfold, it remains to be seen what steps Twitter will be taking next.