Twitter Cedes Taiwan to China

September 17, 2021

China has finally taken control of Taiwan, according to social networking giant Twitter, which redirects some searches for the word Taiwan to results for the word China.

China's regime has long laid claim to Taiwan, an independent island founded by those fleeing communism. Journalist Jeryl Bier on Friday morning noticed Twitter's discrepancy, which mirrors Chinese Communist Party talking points. The Washington Free Beacon confirmed the pattern and estimated that between four and five tweets with the word China show up for every one that references Taiwan.

A Twitter spokesman said the company was "looking into" the pattern but did not give further explanation. It is not clear whether Twitter is A/B testing the search change on some users, as the search algorithm holds for some Twitter accounts but not for others. Bier noted that the pattern works in both directions: Searches for China show some tweets with the word Taiwan.

The pattern suggests that Twitter maintains a policy of linking the two countries in search, perhaps as a way to placate the Chinese Communist Party. The party says that Taiwan is part of China and has escalated its rhetoric regarding a potential invasion. One of the first tweets to show up in searches explicitly referencing Taiwan is from a spokesman for China's foreign ministry and reads in part, "Taiwan is part of China. China must and will be reunified. This historical trend cannot be stopped by any force." The United States does not formally recognize Taiwan but informally supports the country's government militarily and maintains a de facto embassy in the capital city of Taipei.

Twitter's obeisance to China is surprising, in part because the social media platform is already banned for Chinese users. More than 50 Chinese citizens have been jailed for using the platform in breach of Chinese regulations. But China cares deeply about controlling discourse about Taiwan on American platforms. Chinese diplomats use Twitter aggressively to promote state interests and have launched campaigns to claim falsely that COVID-19 originated in America. Regime actors leveraged a large army of Twitter bots and used the StopAsianHate hashtag to encourage Americans to show up at protests. Many of the accounts had few or no followers and were used instead to increase the number of tweets with a given hashtag.

Twitter is not the only Silicon Valley company to bend the knee to China. Apple allows Chinese officials to physically monitor its facilities and data centers in the country, and Microsoft aggressively censors LinkedIn to remove references to topics that the Communist Party finds sensitive.