China

How China’s social media handles fake news about Ukraine

Douyin, Weibo, WeChat and Bilibili scramble to tackle misinformation about Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.

An image of a "no" slashed-through circle as a computer icon

The social media platforms are also cracking down particularly hard on misogynist jokes that demean Ukrainian women.

Photo: Sean Gladwell/Getty Images

Social media platforms worldwide are waging their own battles against fake news and disinformation related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Chinese social companies are no exception. In recent days, Chinese social platforms — from Douyin to Weibo, from WeChat to Bilibili — have been scrambling to remove accounts that are spreading misinformation and making warmongering remarks and vulgar jokes, including some content that seems to have endangered the lives of Chinese nationals stranded in Ukraine.

TikTok’s Chinese original version, Douyin, revealed Sunday in a post on WeChat that its short-video platform had already pulled 3,518 video clips and 12,179 comments regarding Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. It also imposed punishments, including account suspension, on almost 500 specific accounts that spread misinformation.

Weibo, one of the few Chinese online public squares, also announced Sunday that it had removed and suspended more than 10,000 accounts and deleted more than 4,000 warmongering and mocking posts about the war.

“Peace is precious,” Weibo said. “[We] once again call on everyone to keep an objective and rational attitude while paying attention to major international news, and to participate in discussions and express opinions in a reasonable manner.”

Tencent’s WeChat and video-streaming site Bilibili also joined the chorus calling for “rational” discussions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Bilibili on Sunday deleted 1,642 “inappropriate messages” and suspended and gutted 57 accounts.

In addition to cracking down on the swath of misinformation and provocative posts cheering for the war, the social media platforms are also cracking down particularly hard on misogynist jokes that demean Ukrainian women. As soon as news broke that Russia had invaded Ukraine, incels swarmed to social media, cheering for the possibility of female refugees fleeing to China from Ukraine and claiming they would happily take in those “pretty Ukraine ladies.”

The sheer volume of vulgar and pro-war jokes on Chinese social media, against the backdrop of China’s murky position on the war, has created a dangerous situation for Chinese citizens stuck in Ukraine at this time. Chinese international students and expats in Ukraine have both told Chinese state media and also expressed on social media that the sexist and lewd comments, after being translated and spread over to the wider internet, have caused anti-Chinese sentiment in Ukraine.

“I ask everyone to stop making jokes about war and stop thinking that this war has a legitimate basis and that it has nothing to do with you,” a Chinese student pleaded Saturday on Weibo. "Because of your thoughtless banter, international Chinese students might be denied refuge in bomb shelters … we now have to conceal our Chinese identity.”

China didn’t evacuate its citizens out of Ukraine before Russia’s invasion. As the 6,000 Chinese nationals left stranded in Ukraine face intensified backlash, the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine revised its safety recommendation for them. The embassy advised Chinese citizens on Saturday not to highlight their identities or display identifying symbols. This new recommendation contradicted its previous advice given just days ago, which had told Chinese nationals to display China’s flag while driving.

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