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Bezos asks whether Musk-owned Twitter could help Chinese propaganda

Musk has deep investments in China and promises not to moderate content

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk (AP photo)

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The world’s second-richest man, Jeff Bezos, has sparked a discussion about whether the takeover of Twitter by the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, could be a boost to Chinese propaganda efforts on the platform.

Though the Chinese government blocks its citizens from accessing Twitter, it leverages the platform to shape public narratives abroad and promote its propaganda. Yet with Musk at the helm, China could benefit from a lack of censorship and content labelling, according to a report by Fortune.

“Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?” Bezos’ tweet read. He also re-tweeted a post from a New York Times reporter that listed some of Musk’s unique exposure to China: “-Tesla's second-biggest market in 2021 was China (after the US)-Chinese battery makers are major suppliers for Tesla's EVs.”

Twitter began labeling accounts connected with state-owned entities in April 2020 in a move that was seen as a timely reaction to Beijing’s increased use of the platform. In 2019, for instance, Chinese state media bought Twitter ads to push content that delegitimized the Hong Kong protests.

In Twitter’s official statement explaining its use of labeling, it referred directly to the double standard by which the Chinese government leveraged the platform: “China blocks access to Twitter for regular users. We believe that people benefit from additional context when interacting with Chinese government and state-affiliated accounts,” the statement says.

According to research done by China Media Project last year, user engagement with tweets from state media outlets dropped by 20% after the labeling. However, Musk has promised to reduce censorship and content moderating on the platform, which could give Chinese propaganda the breathing space it needs to make a comeback.