As a Chinese living in a western country working in the media industry, I found myself constantly in a dilemma to pick up my standing ground.
Growing up and attending schools in China made me aware that state-owned media might brainwash me. I dreamed that I would go overseas and be a responsible journalist with free speech one day. However, when I stepped up in the western world and worked in journalism and public relation, I noticed that western legacy media has no less different than a propaganda machine.
Since I consume both English and Chinese content and have first-hand experience living in the east and west, I struggle to find TRUTH because there are so many conflicting ‘facts’ and opinions towards one event.
Take Russia and Ukraine crisis as an example. While Twitter’s sentiments are pro-Ukraine, Weibo’s sentiments are pro-Russia. Based on my observation and limited knowledge, here are a few reasons to explain Chinese netizens’ sentiments towards this crisis.
1> China’s historical connection with the Soviet Union, especially among people from Northern China, who have a particular emotion towards Russia from personal or business relationships.
2> Geographically speaking, if Russia lost this war, it would put China into a dangerous status for lacking a powerful ally fighting against the potential threats from NATO (remember United States bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999?)
3> The importance of the One Belt and One Road initiatives where China and Russia have established the strategic partnership on international trading (gas and mines) and agreed on One China Policy.
4> Since Taiwan has been brought up on the table, Chinese netizens feel like the war between Russia and Ukraine is similar to China and Taiwan's situation. Therefore, it's essential to support Russia's win to showcase they have faith in China's takeover of Taiwan in the future. (Although I didn't see the logic here, we’ll save the space from discussing Taiwan in the future).
5> Weibo has been busy deleting people’s emphatic comments towards Ukraine. Many verified accounts with millions of followers on Weibo post content to show Russia’s strong military forces and how the Ukraine government badly treated Chinese citizens in their country. In addition to that, they also shared Twitter screenshots from Indian netizens, who joined the conversation to criticise the US and Western countries' hypocrisy for their full support of Ukraine while keeping silent to the deaths caused by themselves and NATO around the rest of the world.
6> With theTwo Sessions (NPC & CPPCC National Committee annual sessions) happening now, the Chinese media's frontline news and trending topics have shifted from covering international crises to domestic news. Economic stability is China’s top priority in 2022 based on the government report submitted to the Two Sessions. (In the following days, the state media probably direct the public’s attention to domestic issues. The CCP won’t take the financial risk to lean towards either side since Russia, Ukraine, and the EU play a vital role in the One Belt One Road initiatives).
Let’s look at the western world.
Walking past the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in London this week, I saw the exterior wall painted with pro-Ukrainian slogans. The entrance was heavily guarded and fenced off. Across the street, many elders were gathering together to protest Russia’s invasion and holding the signs cursing Putin.
Browsing through the Twitter feeds, numerous ‘military experts’ start to make simple comments against Russia. They might be the same ‘medical experts’ when Covid happened. Ukraine flag emojis started to appear on people’s social media profiles, especially among non-Ukrainians. Those who have done that might have posted the black picture on their social media channels during the #BlackLiveMatters movement.
If we look at the power battle behind this crisis, the United States and NATO are behind Ukraine’s back, and China is the strategic partner of Russia. Western legacy media and Chinese state-owned media are trying to manipulate the public’s opinion because they have the interest group to serve. Different ideologies and long-term media propaganda shape different world views. No wonder the sentiments are relevantly different on the two most representable social media channels from east and west.
With the deteriorating of the current media environment, our news feeds are filled with unverified, biased and fake news. As a result, we no longer understand what is happening around us, and we lose the ability to make sense of our world. The hate speech, the racial tension, the religious conflict, the divided world … In today’s context, do we REALLY understand what’s going on between Russia and Ukraine?
Nation-states and passport are very recent concepts compared to the long history of humankind. How many years do we need to trace back in history to define a country's border and agree on its independence? How much hatred is based upon miscommunications and misleading information? What shall we do as ordinary people navigate complexity?
It’s important to be an informed and engaged citizen to build a democratic society. Whether we want to participate in political talking or gain an accurate sense of the world, without media literacy, we are vulnerable to manipulation and exclusion, either directly receiving the one side story from our favourite (echo chambers) media outlets or indirectly through viral clickbait and powerful algorithm.
A critical media literacy education is required to prevent the widespread disempowerment of people. Here are a few tips based on my journalism background and personal experiences to cultivate media literacy:
1> Understand the basic technical knowledge on how digital device and media channels work to “hack” the algorithm to meet our specific needs, such as modifying device and app/software settings for individual uses, personal security and overall well-being.
2> Review media consumption on a regular basis and exercise due diligence on information sources and platforms. Be aware of corporate journalists, social media trolls, language politics and logical fallacies.
3> Leverage the internet to access information from multiple trustworthy sources (even those reputable channels and individuals outside your country with different languages). Pay attention to cultural and historical contexts.
4> Build up a decentralised media presence for yourself and produce and distribute the content of all types. Be a responsible curator and creator and make yourself non-cancelable.
5> Further readings:
We pay so much attention to consuming media on a daily basis, and media literacy should be taken as a priority if we want to be responsible global citizens. I hope this article has provided your knowledge on the other side of the story and prepared you to evaluate any media you come across in the future critically.