Tech

Zoom and Twitter provide examples of Beijing’s influence on the Internet

China's head of state Xi Jinping

China’s head of state Xi Jinping

Alexander Khitrov / Shutterstock.com

At home, China has strong control over the exchange of information on the Internet. Thanks to the “Chinese firewall” certain news sites and many social media based in the USA are blocked. Chinese networks such as the Twitter counterpart Weibo are heavily censored, critical content is deleted and the authors of such content may be able to expect the state to visit. This is one of the reasons why China always comes in at the bottom of the rankings for global press and freedom of expression.

However, the Chinese government is also exerting massive influence over American Internet companies outside of its own national borders, as recent examples show. Zoom, the conference platform that has become particularly popular in the corona crisis, has admitted to blocking three video meetings of Chinese human rights defenders in the United States and Hong Kong under pressure from the government in Beijing and to closing the hosts’ accounts. The activists had called for an online memorial service for the victims of the bloody crackdown on the 1989 democratic movement in China. The San Jose, California-based company announced on Friday that the accounts have now been reactivated.

Zoom will continue to follow Beijing’s instructions in the future

However, the platform will continue to follow the instructions of Chinese authorities regarding activities considered “illegal” in the future, although accounts and activities outside of China will no longer be restricted. “Over the next few days” software will be developed that should make it possible to exclude participants according to their respective location.

“This enables us to meet the demands of local authorities if these activities on our platform are considered illegal within their limits.” Zoom received sharp criticism for the approach.

A message from Twitter also indicates the dimension with which Beijing could be active online. According to its own statements, the US short message service has removed more than 170,000 propaganda accounts allegedly controlled in the interest of the Chinese government from its platform. The campaign reported that 23,750 user accounts had been discovered and removed, which were heavily involved in spreading misinformation, the short message service said on Thursday (local time). Most of the accounts were recognized and removed early.

Twitter blocks tens of thousands of accounts

In addition, Twitter closed around 150,000 accounts, which are said to have distributed news through retweets and likes and to have given emphasis, which allegedly served the agenda of the Chinese government. The content was about the protests in Hong Kong or the spread of the new corona virus. Dubious user accounts were also eliminated, which Twitter attributed to Russian and Turkish government interests – but to a much lesser extent.

Twitter has been trying to clear out user accounts – especially fake and bot-controlled profiles – that spread propaganda, baiting, or spam. Most recently, Twitter also clashed with US President Donald Trump.

dpa / cm

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