Lawmakers Call on Facebook to Counter Chinese Propaganda Backing Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

By Michael Washburn
Michael Washburn
Michael Washburn
Reporter
Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”
March 16, 2022 Updated: March 16, 2022

A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) sent a letter on March 15 to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta Platforms, to express their “deep concern” about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) use of Facebook as a platform for spreading pro-Russian propaganda as Moscow’s war in Ukraine rages.

“This is emblematic of a larger push by Chinese Communist Party-directed propaganda operations to influence global dialogue and policy on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and must be met with a strong, coordinated public-private response,” the letter stated.

The letter’s other signatories were Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

The letter acknowledged that in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Facebook and parent company Meta moved to bar Russian state media from disseminating ads on the social media platform, a step that prompted Moscow’s retaliation by cutting off Facebook’s availability in Russia.

But Meta’s swift action to prevent Russia from spreading pro-war propaganda on Facebook did not stop Chinese state broadcasters and affiliated accounts from spreading the same kind of disinformation through Facebook ads, the lawmakers charged. Nor has a policy announced by Facebook in 2020 to bar state-dominated media outlets from buying advertising aimed at U.S. users done anything to prevent the same entities from purchasing ads targeting users in foreign jurisdictions.

The letter went on to cite an Axios report that found the CCP was using the platform to sway public opinion in favor of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. China Global TV Network, a state-controlled entity with 118 million viewers on Facebook and 2.4 million on Instagram, disseminated at least 21 ads on Facebook that contained pro-Russian reporting on the invasion, according to the report.

“This is even more troubling considering Chinese outlets on your platform, and even China’s Foreign Minister, are parroting Kremlin disinformation including false reports of Russian forces targeting U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, something which may be used as a pretext for a false flag operation to justify broader violence against civilians,” the lawmakers warned.

In recent weeks, Chinese diplomats have amplified Russian disinformation that the U.S. military has maintained bio labs in Ukraine for bioweapons research, which American officials have described as “Russian propaganda” seeking to retroactively justify Moscow’s aggression in the country.

In their letter, the lawmakers called for a number of remedial steps to counter CCP propaganda about Russia’s war on Ukraine.

They conveyed their proposals in a series of questions to Zuckerberg, including: what steps Meta is taking to make sure that Russian disinformation about the Ukraine invasion does not spread to the United States and global audiences through CCP-affiliated and other non-Russian accounts; what efforts Meta is making to broaden the scope of its 2020 policy barring state-controlled media from buying Facebook ads aimed at U.S. and foreign audiences; and how much money Chinese state broadcasters have paid Meta for ads “amplifying Russian disinformation.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to Meta for comment.

Michael Washburn
Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”