China is using Facebook to build a huge audience around the world

Abroad, by contrast, China uses Facebook to dish up propaganda. Squillions of foreigners see its posts. The English-language page of cgtn, a state mouthpiece, has 77m fans—the most of any news site. China now runs five of the six media outlets with the biggest Facebook followings. None had more than 3m fans in 2014. If their current growth rates continue, by 2022 China Daily and cgtn will overtake the page of Cristiano Ronaldo, a footballer, who is Facebook’s most followed celebrity.

This has given China a loud bullhorn. In 2018 its news pages yielded 370m likes, shares and comments. Russian trolls produced a mere 40m annual Facebook engagements when targeting American elections, according to the Oxford Internet Institute. Among the Chinese pages’ most popular posts are Orwellian titles such as “China human rights report notes violations in us” and “Why is Tibet a target for Western countries to pick on China?”

How has such dross gained so many fans? Perhaps because China has opened news bureaus in many poor countries, where most of them live. Yet the outlets’ rapid growth looks improbable when compared with the sluggish rates of other Facebook news pages. Many young users have switched to Instagram and Snapchat.