House Republican accuses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube of not doing enough to combat Chinese propaganda

House Republican accuses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube of not doing enough to combat Chinese propaganda
© Greg Nash

Scorecards released by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulNational security adviser says Trump was not briefed on bounty intelligence, condemns leaks Pentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar MORE (R-Texas) on Wednesday accused Twitter, Facebook and YouTube of not taking adequate steps to limit the spread of Chinese disinformation and propaganda.

The scorecards graded the three social media giants on whether they labeled state-sponsored media outlets on their sites, blocked Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials from having verified accounts, fact-checked posts and initiated comprehensive removal of CCP propaganda and disinformation.

Twitter received the lowest grade of the three companies, with McCaul giving the company a D- for not fulfilling any of the criteria beyond fact-checking and not making what the scorecard described as making “meaningful policy changes.”

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“Of all the companies we engaged with, Twitter is the platform most heavily abused by the CCP,” the scorecard read. “They are the most unwilling to do anything to stop the CCP from spreading harmful misinformation or provide transparency through labels that inform users they are viewing content from a state-funded or state-directed media outlet."  

YouTube received a C- for labeling state-backed outlets on top of fact-checking, while Facebook received the highest grade of C+ for also fulfilling those two criteria. Both platforms were also described as not having done enough to take down posts or make changes to their policies. 

Members of McCaul’s staff sent samples of CCP-linked posts to the companies and engaged with them in discussing potential changes they could make to address Chinese propaganda efforts. 

McCaul also serves as chair of the China Task Force, which consists of more than a dozen House Republicans and is intended to develop legislation to fight back against Chinese foreign influence efforts. A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide to McCaul told The Hill that the task force is expected to issue recommendations in October that could potentially address Chinese online propaganda efforts. 

McCaul told The Hill in a statement that the CCP had “weaponized” social media platforms to “promote their propaganda.”

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The solution is simple – deplatform CCP officials and propagandists who consistently spread lies,” McCaul said. “Sadly, while we had some positive conversations and some steps have been taken, these companies have chosen to allow CCP officials to continue to operate on their sites instead of doing what’s right. We will continue to encourage American social media companies to deplatform CCP officials and propaganda outlets who are misusing their sites in an attempt to undermine the United States.”

The companies pushed back against McCaul’s criticism that they have not taken action to limit CCP-linked posts. 

A spokesperson for Twitter highlighted the platform’s removal of more than 170,000 Chinese-linked accounts last week, which were deleted for spreading disinformation about COVID-19, protests in Hong Kong and other issues. The spokesperson emphasized that once the company identifies posts that violate its rules on violence, abuse and harassment or on hateful conduct, they are removed. 

“While we’re exploring the ability to offer further context around permitted, organic official accounts affiliated with a nation state, it’s important to note we do not accept any advertising from state-controlled media entities,” the spokesperson said. “We're the only company to have done this.”

YouTube told The Hill that it has taken steps over the past few years to limit misinformation and disinformation on its platforms. YouTube has implemented a process of removing content that violates community guidelines, reducing recommendations for videos that could misinform viewers, and raising up authoritative voices on the platform. 

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A spokesperson for Facebook declined to directly comment on the scorecard, but pointed The Hill to the company’s recent decision to label state-controlled media on its platform, including posts from Chinese government-controlled Xinhua News. 

McCaul highlighted his concerns about CCP-backed online propaganda in a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE in March, urging Pompeo to intensify efforts to push back against China for spreading misinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Beijing: US 'oppressing Chinese companies' after Huawei, ZTE action Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties MORE (R-Neb.) and Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherHillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down Lawmakers introduce legislation to establish national cybersecurity director House Republican accuses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube of not doing enough to combat Chinese propaganda MORE (R-Wis.) also sent a letter to Twitter in March asking the platform to ban the CCP from the platform.

Pompeo has been vocal about his concerns around the online misinformation, saying during a press briefing in March that the State Department had seen evidence that Chinese, Russian and Iranian actors were spreading misinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic.