Chinese propagandists want Musk to remove state media labels from Twitter accounts

Chinese Communist Party propagandists are calling on Elon Musk to remove the “state-affiliated media” labels from their Twitter accounts now that the billionaire has taken over the tech company.

Twitter agreed in May to sell the company for $44 billion to Musk, who plans to take it private, and the deal went through this week.

Musk is heavily investing in China to make and sell his Tesla electric cars. He has repeatedly complimented the CCP for its economic policies, even as the United States is relying on another Musk company, SpaceX, to launch satellites and astronauts into space.

Multiple officials employed by media outlets run by Beijing’s government used the news of Musk taking over Twitter to lament the “Chinese state-affiliated media” labels placed on their accounts.

“I am the most popular current affairs commentator on Chinese social media,” Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief and party secretary for the Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, tweeted Friday. “I hope Twitter, with Musk as its chief, will remove the label that does not match my status after my retirement, sincerely accept my speech, and respect the voice of Chinese society that I have brought.”

The Global Times is operated under the guidance of People’s Daily, which is owned by the Central Committee of the CCP. Hu left his position as editor-in-chief in December 2021, but he continues to list himself as a “Global Times commentator” and continues to write regularly for the outlet. Hu has complained about the label on Twitter in the past as well.

On Wednesday, Musk tweeted that “a beautiful thing about Twitter is how it empowers citizen journalism — people are able to disseminate news without an establishment bias.”

Chen Weihua, listed as a columnist and EU bureau chief for China Daily, used that tweet to attack Twitter: “Really? By labeling Chinese media accounts but not labeling those in US or Europe with state funding? By imposing Twitter policy that discriminates against these Chinese accounts? Twitter has been used to serve US geopolitical purpose for years.”

Chen’s outlet is an English-language newspaper owned by the CCP’s Publicity Department.

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This image from the Twitter page of Elon Musk shows Musk entering Twitter headquarters carrying a sink through the lobby area on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022 in San Francisco.

(AP / Elon Musk via Twitter)

Meng Zhe, a “video journalist” at China Daily, tweeted in response, “Will Elon Musk free my ‘state affiliated media’ label? It’s time to free the bird.”

Fiorella Isabel, whose Twitter bio reads, “journalist, geo-political analyst, News at” RT, a Russian state media outlet, also tweeted at Musk on Friday that he should “take off Russia state affiliated media & their shadowbanned accounts and unban Russian media if you’re remotely serious, otherwise this is just talk.”

Twitter’s rules read: “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. … State-affiliated media is defined as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content.”

The tech company says Twitter “will not recommend or amplify accounts or their Tweets with these labels to people.”

China blocks its own people from using Twitter, although the tech company has run sponsored content by state-owned Huawei, and the Chinese government and state-run media make extensive use of the social media platform, including to push falsehoods about COVID-19’s origins.

Chen has long complained about Twitter’s labels, previously calling it “Twitter McCarthyism.” He also repeatedly called on Twitter to shut down former President Donald Trump’s “disinformation account” in 2020 and celebrated when that happened in January 2021. He also complained that Twitter hadn’t shut down the accounts of Hong Kong protesters in 2019.

Musk cozied up to China to expand his business there. China’s ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang, revealed he’d had a “smooth ride” in a Tesla with Musk in March during a California visit, tweeting of himself and Musk together.

When the CCP was commemorating its 100th anniversary in June 2021, Musk tweeted: “The economic prosperity that China has achieved is truly amazing, especially in infrastructure! I encourage people to visit and see for themselves.”

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The Chinese government also endorsed Musk’s proposal earlier this month to hand over control of Taiwan to Beijing by making the independent island a “special administrative region” of China.

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