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China-Thailand coronavirus social media war escalates

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Social media anger from Chinese nationalists over a Thai model’s coronavirus comments sparked a war of words on social media, uniting pro-democracy campaigners against pro-Beijing cyber-warriors.

The quarrel, which has seen Southeast Asian netizens join forces with those in Taiwan and Hong Kong, has highlighted old tensions between China and its smaller neighbours fanned by the emergence of the new coronavirus.

Political analysts and activists said the online row, which started at the weekend, was unique in volume and regional spread at a time when more daily life has been forced online.

“This is the first transnational geopolitical Twitter war Thais have engaged in,” said Prajak Kongkirati of Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

“We see people questioning China’s actions and influence … The celebrity issue is the tip of the iceberg.”

Furious Chinese netizens

Related Twitter hashtags generated more than two million tweets and trended globally. A fan page for the main hashtag, #Nnevvy, has more than 63,000 Facebook followers.

“Nnevvy” is the social media moniker of internet model Weeraya Sukaram, and the dispute began after she was accused of sharing a Thai Twitter message questioning whether the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Furious Chinese netizens then said she had once appeared to suggest, in a post on Instagram, that Taiwan was not part of China. Beijing says the self-ruled island is an indivisible part of its territory.

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Weeraya did not respond to requests for comment and neither of the messages was visible on her accounts.

Further fuelling the fire, Chinese commentators then accused Weeraya’s boyfriend, Vachirawit Chivaaree, of having once liked a post that identified Hong Kong as a country – again a no-no for Beijing.

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Despite his apology, they called for a boycott of his hit TV show.

Related hashtags on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo resulted in more than 1.44 million posts and 4.64 billion views.

‘Freedom-loving friends’

In the face of the pro-China barrage, support rallied for the Thai celebrities from anti-Beijing activists and politicians – including Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong and a Taiwan mayor.

Wong posted a photo watching Vachirawit’s show and urged Hong Kong to “stand with our freedom-loving Thai friends”.

“Perhaps we can build a new kind of pan-Asian solidarity that opposes all forms of authoritarianism!” he wrote.

Thai pro-democracy student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said he and Wong had been in touch and Thais were uneasy over growing Chinese influence since a 2014 coup in Thailand, whose leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, won a disputed election last year.

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“The hashtag provided an opportunity to speak up,” Netiwit said.

Meanwhile, some users in the Philippines took on the hashtag to attack Chinese action in the disputed South China Sea.

China’s foreign ministry pointed the finger at a plot to stir up trouble and said China and Thailand were working closely together, including on the coronavirus outbreak.

“Certain people use the opportunity to incite dispute on the internet, creating oppositions between public opinions, playing off China-Thailand relations. Their plot shall not succeed,” the ministry said.

Twitter is blocked in China and only accessible for those using virtual private networks or with official approval.

Diplomatic engagement

Social media consultancy Drone Emprit found automated bot accounts were using the #Nnevvy hashtag but it did not say where they came from. Reuters news agency found several pro-China accounts had been created in the last few days and only contained comments on the dispute.

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“While #Nnevvy started off as an intense overnight Twitter war between Thailand and China, it’s now turned into meaningful diplomatic engagement with Hong Kong and Taiwan,” said Tracy Beattie of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Insults from Chinese nationalists against Thailand’s government and king were laughed off by Thai campaigners who themselves attack the administration as undemocratic. The king has faced unprecedented online criticism recently despite a penalty of up to 15 years in jail for anyone insulting him.

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Thailand’s government was aware of the social media battle between Thai and Chinese accounts and it urged Thai internet users to express themselves within reason, said deputy government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek.

Thai posters, using one well-known internet meme, labelled a menacing character as Chinese people trying to hurt Thai people’s feelings by insulting their country. A nonchalant character was described as Thai people who have been insulting their country for years.

Meanwhile, Thai users mocked China for authoritarian rule and likened President Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh – a comparison that is banned in China.

“Thailand is poor, but China is Pooh,” read one viral tweet.

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NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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