ARYANA KHALILZADEH WRITES-Social media has become a source of information, misinformation, and conspiracy theories on topics such as the pandemic, U.S. elections, and global insurrections.
As Russia launched its full-scale military invasion in Ukraine, social media became flooded with various posts in the form of memes, photos, news, and heated commentary on Twitter and Tik Tok. With images of bombed buildings and first-person accounts of Ukrainian civilians fleeing their homes, the invasion of Ukraine has become the dominant global topic.
Chinese social media is no exception. This new war has drawn hundreds of millions of views generating intense discussion; but also, not surprisingly, the tone and content coming from China is not as uniform as that of the United States and its Western allies. Instead, reactions by Chinese civilians have varied from disbelief to support of the war, and from anti-war sentiment to blaming the United States and its allies for being provocative.
There is also a group of Chinese men who have jokingly made inappropriate comments about Ukranian women. A number of users endorsed sexual violence against fleeing Ukrainian women, which has prompted widespread criticism, resulting in the suspension of their accounts by Chinese social media platforms. One such post on Weibo read: “Willing to shelter 18- to 24-year-old Ukrainian girls.”
The Chinese platform with the greatest amount of commentary on the war is Weibo, the Twitter-like platform sponsored by China Central Television (CCTV). One of the most popular posts -with over 1.1 billion views- has been the hashtag “Ukraine’s President Says the West Abandoned Ukraine.”
Other Chinese platforms such as Weibo, Douyin (the equivalent of Tik Tok), and WeChat have been urging users to remain objective and rational. Weibo has removed over 4,000 vulgar posts and Douyin has removed over 3,500 inappropriate videos. Another posted problem: a Chinese student in Kyiv did not want to be identified in sharing her concern about anti-Chinese sentiments among locals, saying, “I don’t even dare go to a shelter, I’m afraid I might get rejected.” Instead, she stayed home during curfew, waiting out the conflict.
While Beijing has yet to condemn the Russian invasion, Chinese media hashtags such as “Russian and Ukrainian forces exchange fire” have drawn millions of views as people unleash their sympathy, anger, and mockery about the conflict. Will people’s views change as the war drags on? Can Chinese social media affect real-world change? Or not?