Recently-revealed documents indicate that the American software company Microsoft actively worked with Chinese government-run media outlets to spread Chinese propaganda.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, Microsoft – the second-largest corporation in the United States – entered into partnerships with several outlets run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including China Daily and People’s Daily, with the latter being the official newspaper of the CCP’s Central Committee, while the former is published by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department. In 2020, the U.S. State Department declared that the parent company of People’s Daily was “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by the CCP.
As part of the partnerships, Microsoft agreed to provide technology to China Daily that would enable it to target potential readers, while People’s Daily would be given access to an artificial intelligence (AI) bot that was designed to be censored and controlled by the CCP. The deal with China Daily was struck in September of 2016, with China Daily even admitting that the partnership would see Microsoft provide the publication with technology that would establish a “Media Smart Cloud Innovation Technology Laboratory.”
At the time, a senior Microsoft executive declared that it was “an honor to launch a strategic cooperation with China Daily,” with the company intending to facilitate “the success of the digital transformation of China’s media industry through integration and innovation.”
In response to the report, a spokeswoman for Microsoft claimed that both partnership agreements had “expired years ago and were not renewed.” But critics have said that such deals are dangerous just by virtue of the fact that they ever existed in the first place.
“These are major propaganda outlets that publish outright falsehoods attacking the ideas of democracy, attacking the very concepts that undergird our society, and yet an American company is working to spread this,” said Geoffrey Cain, policy director at the Tech Integrity Project. “The purpose of all this is to show the Chinese Communist Party that it’s firmly on the side of China and the Chinese system.”
“Microsoft isn’t immune from these sorts of arrangements just because they’re an American company,” said Jake Denton, research associate at the Heritage Foundation. “It’s kind of an angel deal with the devil scenario. Microsoft loves the idea of access to the Asia market but it comes with a catch. In this case, it’s helping the Chinese government’s propaganda campaigns.”