In the United States, big media critiques on technology companies happen every day. In a country that values freedom of speech, this dissent is encouraged. Under an autocratic, communist regime like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), public dissent between media and technology giants is rare and indicates something much more significant.
On Tuesday (Aug. 3), a lengthy article attacking Tencent’s video games as “spiritual opium” for teenagers, was published on Economic Information Daily, a business newspaper affiliated with Xinhua, the CCP’s official state media.
It’s unlikely that the root of such an aggressive attack on Tencent is out of a concern for teenage addiction to gaming. If the Chinese regime is truly concerned with “spiritual opium” destroying Chinese youth, it would be better served by taking a look at its own censorship of free speech and opinion as a dictatorial communist regime.
All autocratic systems rely on two key assistants: a secret police force and a propaganda agency. In modern times, the CCP’s secret police act through technology giants like Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba.
In their role as the CCP’s secret police, the power of these internet companies is frightening.
The Chinese Communist Party has built one of the most powerful national technology surveillance systems in the world. On top of its already pernicious uses of facial recognition software, widespread surveillance cameras, and data mining, the CCP uses the internet as its all-seeing eyes and ears.
In 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Tencent is required to help the Chinese regime with hunting down criminal suspects and silencing political dissent.
“The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” said Jack Ma, Alibaba’s CEO and founder, during a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement in 2016.
In the United States, technology companies and media organizations operate independently from the government. In China, they all work for the CCP’s totalitarian aims.
The CCP has long maintained a closed system with its own censored media and Xinhua News Agency remains the CCP’s official state media.
For a Xinhua media outlet to attack Tencent, a China technology giant, there is likely a clash within the CCP high level leadership.
The motivation for such contention is money and changing regulations.
Chinese state media have long resented technology companies like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent for taking away traditional advertising revenue from media companies.
For example, on CCTV, the advertisements not only broadcast commercial advertisements, but also ad placements, such as the brand of product that will be used on certain programs.
In the last 10 years, traditional media advertising revenue has dropped immensely. Chinese commercial advertisers are largely turning to online social media platforms, mainly WeChat and Douyin, China’s version of Tiktok, to advertise products to Chinese consumers.
For state-run media, advertising revenue serves as a hefty source of income for CCP propaganda officials.
After the article was published, Tencent’s share price in Hong Kong’s stock market fell sharply by more than 10 percent, and the company’s market value plunged by $55.3 billion.
This state media attack on Tencent led to a brutal week for Chinese technology companies, when a massive stock sell-off wiped out hundreds of billions of dollars in the market value of the companies. Tencent lost over $100 billion in market value in a span of 48 hours.
Listed companies fluctuate up and down based on publications from CCP state media. Chinese investors call it a policy market, but it is actually a political market.
Worldwide investors are worried about a CCP crackdown on China’s private sectors resulting in increases in regulation and taxation.
These sorts of media criticisms seem inconsequential to westerners, who are used to free markets and free media. In a CCP-controlled country, they are signs of party infighting and a volatile change on the party’s horizon.