Twitter bans Web Summit ad promoting Chinese government statement

Post violated social media platorms’s ban on promoted political content

An advertisement placed by tech conference company Web Summit lauding a Chinese government statement was halted by Twitter for violating its ban on political promotion.

"China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has this evening sent a profound message of solidarity and friendship to Ireland's Tánaiste & Minister of Foreign Affairs @simoncoveney and the Irish people," read the post. "The Chinese side is willing to work with the Irish side."

The post included an image of a statement from the Chinese embassy in Ireland noting the "precious support and assistance from the international community" during its outbreak, and stating that China was willing to share information and experience with Ireland.

Twitter said in statement that it removed the post and at least one other Web Summit advertisement for violating its ban on promoted political content, and for violating its prohibition on advertising referencing a sensitive event, namely the pandemic.


Explaining how it violated the ban on political content, a company spokesperson noted the embassy post references a government official.

The post was one of three Web Summit ads to have been removed since March 18th.

Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave has used his personal account on the social media platform to criticise the response of Irish authorities and media to the crisis, and praise efforts by the Beijing government and Chinese companies.

Asked if he had a response to Twitter’s removal of the ads, Mr Cosgrave said someone within Twitter had “overstepped the line” and that he would raise the issue with the company’s chief executive Jack Dorsey.

“My comment is: The editorial perogatives of the Irish Times betray the immediate interests of the Irish people which is the minimisation of the loss of life. We should ask questions later of China. And save lives first,” Mr Cosgrave said in a message.

Conspiracy theories

“I am afraid too many gombeen editors in Dublin are pre-occupied with conspiracy theories. It’s unfortunate given that time is of the essence. I think they are largely betraying the public’s trust.”

Mr Cosgrave contacted The Irish Times on March 19th to request promotion for donations he said would be given by Chinese tech companies Huawei and Alibaba. "I think it's somewhat important in this moment of crisis that Ireland highlights the work of China," he wrote.

When contacted to confirm this on March 19th, Alibaba would not comment on whether it would donate aid to Ireland.

On March 23rd, the company issued a press release to say that facemasks and protective clothing were being transferred to Ireland. The company would not give details on the size of the donation.

A Huawei spokesman said the company would be making a donation, but declined to specify what it would consist of.

Asked about the relationship between Cosgrave and Huawei, a Huawei spokesman directed The Irish Times to a sponsored message from the company's Chief Representative to the EU Institutions Abraham Liu in POLITICO Europe.

“People and organizations came to us directly and asked for help,” Mr Liu wrote in the post. “Indeed on some occasions, we were asked if we could provide masks in certain countries... We did have some stocks of masks for our employees, so we have donated those to whoever asked for and needed them.

“Our help is not conditional and not part of any business or geopolitical strategy as some have suggested.”

The post denied that Huawei would scale back donations in response to a blog post by the EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell in which he warned of "a struggle for influence through spinning and the 'politics of generosity'.

“China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner,” Borrell wrote.

Huawei is the subject of a fierce political tussle in Europe. Several European countries have scaled back their use of Huawei equipment, after accusations by the United States that the technology poses a strategic security risk and is vulnerable to spying by the Chinese government.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times