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Twitter’s discriminatory decision to label Chinese and Russian media as “state-affiliated” causes controversy online

By Chi Zao (People's Daily)    17:22, August 07, 2020

Twitter on Thursday attached a special label to the accounts of “state-affiliated media entities” and their staff, a move that deals a heavy blow to media outlets from countries like China and Russia, while Western government-funded media including BBC and VOA are exempt from the treatment due to their “editorial independence”, with public and experts worldwide criticising the Internet behemoth for its “double standards” and “violation of freedom of speech.”

In the blog post announcing the decision, Twitter stressed that these labels would apply only to the five permanent UN Security Council members, however, most media accounts affected by the new rules are from China and Russia. The announcement noted that state-affiliated media will no longer have their tweets promoted, adding that outlets that use state financing but enjoy editorial independence, such as NPR in the US and the BBC in the UK, will not be marked.

“Unlike independent media, state-affiliated media frequently use their news coverage as a means to advance a political agenda. We believe that people have the right to know when a media account is affiliated directly or indirectly with a state actor,” noted the announcement.

Major media outlets in China and Russia are all labelled as “state-affiliated media,” including People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency and CGTN from China, as well as RT and Sputnik from Russia. Most Western government-funded media outlets are not included in the list, without Twitter giving solid evidence that they are “independent from the government.”

Twitter has yet to respond to a request to explain its decision as of press time.

“Twitter’s explanation for labelling Chinese and Russian media outlets as state-affiliated while exempting Western media from similar treatment is groundless and arrogant, proving that so-called freedom of speech is merely empty talk,” said Qin An, head of the Beijing-based Institute of China Cyberspace Strategy.

Twitter’s decision soon triggered fierce debate and controversy online. Twitter user “Labels” noted in his post that “Radio Free Europe was literally started by CIA, how come it is not on the list?”

Most real state-affiliated media outlets in the US, such as Radio Free Europe and VOA, are not labelled, even though the former is a US government-funded organisation that received funds covertly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1972, broadcasting US ideologies mainly to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East where the US government deemed “the free flow of information is either banned by government or not fully developed,” while the latter has been called a “US overseas prop organ damage machine” for decades.

“Voice of America (VOA) is supervised by US Agency for Global Media. Upon the passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2017, any new agency CEO is now to be nominated by the US president and confirmed by the US Senate with authority to select key agency personnel. I would not call this ‘independent state-funded media’,” said a netizen on Sina Weibo.

Twitter’s decision is the latest of the US’ moves against Chinese media outlets. According to the Guardian, Google deleted 2,500 YouTube accounts with connections to China between April and June, noting that they were removed as “part of our ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to China.”

“It is dangerous that the US’ double-standard policies have now expanded to enterprise level, and even social media platforms like Twitter are now affected. It is hegemonism in cyberspace,” Qin added.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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