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How China is dealing with misinformation about Ukraine

Protocol China


In this week’s newsletter, we will cover how China’s diplomatic position affects its citizens and tech companies abroad.

Social media and Ukraine

Ukraine misinformation and war jokes hurt Chinese citizens. As soon as news broke that Russia had invaded Ukraine, warmongers, ultranationalists and incels in China swarmed to social media. They spread misinformation, cheered for the war as well as the possibility of taking in female refugees from Ukraine and were gleeful that this could be a lesson for Taiwan.

  • Some of the pro-war jokes and mockery of Ukraine, bolstered by Beijing’s murky response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, were picked up by Ukrainian media and spilled over to the wider internet.
  • Chinese expats in Ukraine said the sexist and pro-Russia comments have caused anti-Chinese sentiment in Ukraine and pleaded to their compatriots to stop fueling the flames.

Chinese major social media platforms finally stepped into crack down on accounts after messages from China appeared to put Chinese expats’ lives in danger.

  • Major social media platforms are calling for “rational” and constrained discussions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Douyin pulled more than 3,500 video clips and over 12,000 comments regarding Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. It also imposed punishments, including account suspension, on almost 500 specific accounts that spread misinformation.
  • Weibo said Sunday it had removed and suspended more than 10,000 accounts and deleted more than 4,000 warmongering and mocking posts about the war.
  • Bilibili said it had developed a mechanism to automatically screen out jokes about “pretty Ukraine ladies.”

To be sure, Chinese web users share a wide range of opinions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the anti-war voices are frequently drowned out by pro-war content — and sympathetic views toward Ukraine are prone to censorship.

In the midst of all this, China’s norm-setting algorithm rules went into effect on Tuesday.

  • According to the new rules, internet platforms are banned from using algorithms to "generate synthetic fake news information” or disseminate it.
  • It’s a sign that Beijing is well aware of how disinformation and misinformation can divide a nation. The Russia-Ukraine news cycle could be a test run for the newly enacted algorithm regulations.

Shen Lu (email | twitter)

On Protocol China

Tech companies pay the price for China’s muddy war response. DiDi and Lenovo have been under fire domestically for reports that they are suspending their Russian services. Ultranationalists accuse the Chinese tech companies of siding with Western forces. As a result, DiDi, which had planned to exit Russia before the war, had to backtrack while facing a reputation crisis at home. Zeyi Yang has the story.


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Big Brother Beijing

Beijing’s crackdown on online tutoring has not stopped. Beijing’s strikes last year against private tutoring almost wiped out the entire industry in China. And now Beijing’s municipal Education Commission has proposed that the regulations be extended to cover tutoring apps targeting kindergartners (previous rules only aimed at tutoring services that catered to elementary school students and older). Many online tutoring firms that pivoted to address the younger audience may feel like they’re on pins and needles now.

Chinese tech companies have to tell users about their algorithms. China’s new regulations designed to restrict tech companies’ usage of algorithmic recommendations went into effect yesterday. The regulations have the potential to shape the global algorithm regulatory landscape.

China goes global

Chinese tech companies were making inroads into Ukraine. Then the war began. The South China Morning Post reports that a number of firms, including smartphone makers Xiaomi and Oppo, were scaling up their businesses and launching new products in Russia before the country invaded Ukraine. But the Chinese tech companies seeking global expansions are now caught in the economic crossfire.

Straight from China's web

China’s EV industry takes a hit. China's electric vehicle manufacturers are currently feeling the squeeze from rising costs and lowered government subsidies. The steep increase in prices for EV battery materials, particularly lithium, is jeopardizing the otherwise booming industry.

Chinese chip companies’ record fundraising. Despite U.S. chip sanctions on China throughout 2021, China’s chip companies raised a record $10.8 billion in a booming market driven by a global chip shortage. EqualOcean, a Chinese tech information service provider, reported Wednesday that the total funds Chinese semiconductor firms raised in 2021 increased 40.7% from 2020.


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One more thing

State media propagates Russian disinformation. On Feb. 26, China state broadcaster CCTV reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had left Kyiv, citing Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin’s social media post. Chinese state media in more recent days has been trying to debunk rumors and misinformation online. Maybe the platforms should put together their own fact-checking team.

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