China Gets WHAT for $7 Billion in Meta Ads?

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Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, all subsidiaries of Meta, are experiencing a dubious boost of ads from China—about $7 billion worth in 2023.

Meta reports a whopping 20 percent of revenue from the Asia-Pacific region—a lot for a company whose origins extend 6,700 miles away in a Harvard dorm.

Could those billions affect Meta’s decisions, including on its all-important algorithms that determine what its nearly 4 billion users see up top and what disappears deep in their feeds?
In 2023 and before, Facebook dramatically downgraded news reporting, including about China’s human rights abuse, for example. Yet it allows Beijing to advertise propaganda up the wazoo. According to a Stanford study in 2022, “countries that see a large increase in views of Facebook advertisement from Chinese state media also see news coverage of China become more positive.”

The study found that “News coverage also becomes more likely to use keywords that suggest a point of view favorable to China,” with a possible explanation given that “the advertisements help Chinese state media set the news agenda covered by other media sources.”

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Perhaps not coincidentally, Mark Zuckerberg visited China in 2016 and met with the regime’s propaganda chief. The following year, according to The New York Times, Meta made most of its ad money in Asia from China, notably from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled propaganda. By 2019, a research company discovered fake accounts used by Beijing to promote disinformation, including about Hong Kong and COVID-19. In August 2023, Meta claimed to have removed parts of the operation, but it kept coming back with new tactics and accounts over the years.
“The Chinese-origin influence operation ran across multiple social media platforms, and was the first one to target US domestic politics ahead of the 2022 midterms and Czechia’s foreign policy toward China and Ukraine,” Meta stated on its website that year.
In May, Facebook accelerated changes to its algo, dramatically downgrading news items in favor of vapid TikTok-style videos. That likely advantages the CCP, given that its paid “news” advertising is now sent to the top of user feeds, with actual news from the free media pretty much dunzo. I remember the almost overnight disappearance of engagement on Facebook of my commentary on China’s human rights issues. The same commentary on X, formerly Twitter, and LinkedIn continued with plenty of engagement—and still does. Factual news has apparently been “shadow-banned” on Facebook while Party propaganda is up top.
Ads on Facebook contribute to eroding a diverse U.S. economy of small businesses in favor of China’s cheap online mass-marketers. In the third quarter (Q3) of 2023 alone, analysts estimate that Facebook and Instagram received approximately $800 million in ad revenue from Temu and Shein. These two drive out U.S. companies—including mom-and-pop places on Main Street—by exploiting U.S. tariff loopholes. Monthly app downloads for Shein and Temu in the United States are now at almost 2.4 million and 6.5 million, respectively.
And China’s ad spending may be cut both ways for the CCP. Meta’s chief financial officer said its greatest growth during Q3 2023 was in Latin America and Africa, noting that “Brazil was a strong contributor to the region’s acceleration due in part to increased advertisers demand from China advertisers targeting users in Brazil.”
Talks between Meta and Tencent to collaborate on a virtual reality project—Quest 3 Lite—for China was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 9. But by late January, the deal was apparently scuttled. The suspension was reported on Jan. 25, just under two months after Facebook announced that it had removed a network of 4,789 fake Chinese accounts used for political influence.

Is Beijing wielding its power over Facebook revenues to punish what Meta manages against CCP influence?

While profiting from China’s billions of dollars in ad revenue, Meta and Mr. Zuckerberg are apparently looking the other way on most of the CCP’s influence or only weakly enforcing countermeasures.

Given that Meta is not doing the right thing, voters could step in and force their elected representatives to ban CCP ads—or the companies it controls—as they likely serve the CCP more than American values. Our representatives should investigate whether freedom of speech on Meta is harmed by the downgrading of news in its algorithms.

Mr. Zuckerberg is now filthy rich at about $170 billion, too much of which is blood money from a regime known for totalitarianism and genocide and from downgrading organic news reporting promoted by users about China’s human rights abuses, for example. The U.S. Congress has the right to haul him before the public along with other questionable social media CEOs, most notably from China’s TikTok. The grilling should end in legislation that fines a good portion of Meta earnings as a penalty to be used for new counter-disinformation initiatives. TikTok, on the other hand, should be banned outright.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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