Technology

One country has much more to gain than the rest in Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter: China

As the implications of Elon Musk’s million-dollar deal to buy Twitter are worked out, the world is wondering if the acquisition also opens a door for China to exert indirect control over the social media platform, given Tesla’s reliance on its plant. from Shanghai and local suppliers for profit. Twitter is banned in China, but that doesn’t stop the Chinese government from putting the app to good use to promote propaganda.

And now that the social media platform is being bought by the world’s richest man (and CEO of Tesla), the Chinese government may have gained some influence over the future of the service.

What worries Jeff Bezos. The second-richest man in the world, behind Musk, who owns Amazon, the Washington Post and BlueOrigin, is apparently concerned about China’s ability to influence the future owner of Twitter. Jeff Bezos I posted a tweet a few hours ago wondering if buying Twitter gives China additional influence over the “town square” of democracy.

In a follow up to his own tweet, Bezos rejected the idea that Tesla’s exposure to China could lead Musk to implement pro-China censorship on Twitter. But censorship is not really the problem here. With Musk soon to be in control, China may benefit from a relative lack of censorship.

Why? In 2021, China became Tesla’s largest source of vehicle production and probably its second largest source of sales. Given the lower production costs there, including batteries, materials and workers’ wages, it’s also “by far” the carmaker’s source of profit. He was the first foreigner to consolidate in China who was allowed to fully own his automobile assembly plant there. Previously, giants General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota had to team up with local Chinese companies, which typically owned a majority stake in joint-venture factories.

Privileges for Tesla. Experts believe Tesla was given a special waiver as the government hoped the (formerly) Silicon Valley-based company would push Chinese carmakers to upgrade to compete with the brand. It appears to have worked, as local companies including BYD and NIO have become fast-growing rivals to Tesla in that market with a range of attractive new electric models. The financing to build the “Giga Shanghai” facility included 1.3 billion loans from local banks.

chinese propaganda. In August 2020, Twitter initiated a policy of tagging accounts affiliated with state entities. The move appeared to be a direct response to the Chinese government’s increased use of the platform to promote its own narrative abroad. Chinese state media used paid ads on Twitter to promote articles opposing the 2019 Hong Kong protests, prompting Twitter to ban state-affiliated media from buying ads. The platform has two blog posts explaining his decisionone of which specifically mentions China.

If that policy was designed to limit the scope of China’s propaganda efforts, it worked. In 2021, research by the China Media Project showed that tweets from Chinese state media suffered a 20% drop in engagement following the implementation of the policy. If Musk, who has vowed to make Twitter a bastion of free speech, reverses those policies, he could clear the way for China’s propaganda machine to reignite.

Tesla is already conquering the only country that has so far resisted it: China

Absolutist of “free speech”. Additionally, his description of himself as a “free speech absolutist” has some worried that less moderation could lead to more misinformation, including from China-linked accounts. But some of the steps he outlined in a statement yesterday — like making the site’s algorithms open source, removing spam bots and making sure accounts represent real people — could reduce the impact of certain kinds of hacking operations. information.

Lobbying foreign companies. Additionally, China has an established history of pressuring foreign companies to tailor their public statements to their official narratives. “While Musk has enjoyed trolling countries like Saudi Arabia for their views on free speech of late, given Tesla’s reliance on China for future growth, it’s unlikely he would have the same enthusiasm for publicly taking on the Communist Party. Chinese,” explained Jordan Schneider, an analyst at Rhodium Group, referring to Musk’s war of words with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who expressed his opposition to the sale of Twitter while he was a shareholder.

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