China Blocks Twitter From Its 1.4-B Citizens But Spends Billions For Ads On Platform
Even as China bars 1.4 billion citizens from Twitter, its local authorities are splurging on global advertising on the site, helping make the country the platform's fastest-growing overseas ad market and one of its largest non-US revenue sources, Fanny Potkin, Eduardo Baptista, and Tony Munroe reported for Reuters.
Photo Insert: The review shows just how important China has become for Twitter, under pressure from investors to meet growth targets as its US business stalls.
A Reuters review of publicly available government tenders, budget documents, and promoted tweets from 2020 to 2022 shows local authorities and Chinese Communist Party propaganda offices for cities, provinces and even districts across the country have flocked to Twitter to buy ads.
The promotions, often outsourced by local governments to state media, pitched local attractions, as well as cultural and economic achievements, to an international audience, and were permitted under an exemption to Twitter's ban on state-media advertising.
Twitter's China region has seen an 800-fold improvement in revenue since 2014, the fastest-growing globally, according to the now-deleted LinkedIn bio of Twitter Greater China Managing Director Alan Lan. The bio was reviewed by Reuters late in August before it was taken down.
The review shows just how important China has become for Twitter, under pressure from investors to meet growth targets as its US business stalls. Twitter's dealings in China may come to the fore on Tuesday when the US Senate Judiciary committee holds a hearing to consider a whistleblower complaint filed by Twitter's former security chief Peiter Zatko.
Among other claims, the 84-page complaint alleges "Twitter executives knew that accepting Chinese money risked endangering users in China," and that "Mr. Zatko was told that Twitter was too dependent upon the revenue stream at this point to do anything other than attempt to increase it."
Gaming, e-commerce, and tech firms in China are also key Twitter customers, according to two sources. Twitter's sales of overseas ads to Chinese clients are estimated to be in the "hundreds of millions of dollars a year," the people said, the majority coming from these companies.
The buying of ads on Twitter by state-affiliated entities has come as Chinese police have increased arrests of citizens who have found ways to use the platform to criticize authorities, according to Chinese news coverage of court cases.
Chinese courts have sentenced dozens of people in the past three years for using Twitter and other foreign platforms to criticize authorities, according to court records and media articles.
China rarely comments on such cases, but when it does it justifies the punishment by accusing the critics of trying to subvert the regime.