Digital tools such as bots and more than 3,000 fake Twitter accounts spread messages that positively influenced the Winter Olympics. These accounts were created recently and often had few followers, The New York Times reported on Feb. 18.

The New York Times and ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom, found that the above-mentioned Twitter accounts seemed to be working together to promote the Olympics by sharing Chinese state media posts with the same messages.

One of the accounts called “Spicy Panda,” which has been uploading cartoons and videos to oppose calls for a boycott of the Olympics, once posted a cartoon accusing the U.S. of using “its deceiving propaganda weapon to stain the Olympics.”

Analysis of the 861 “Spicy Panda” supporter accounts shows that 90% were set up after Dec. 1, 2021. The first wave of coordinated posts from these accounts promoted Beijing’s position in the Hong Kong Legislative Council election, and then the focus shifted to the Winter Olympics.

Other botlike accounts also promoted hashtags like #Beijing2022 and #TogetherForASharedFuture. Tweets with the same content, “China’s hosting of the #Beijing2022 as scheduled has boosted the world’s confidence in defeating the pandemic,” were repeatedly posted by those accounts.

Twitter said it had suspended hundreds of the accounts identified by The New York Times and ProPublica for violating its platform manipulation and spam policies in an emailed statement. However, it stated it was still looking into the accounts’ connections to state-backed information activities.

In addition, the U.S. media company, Vippi Media, had signed a $300,000 contract with the consulate general of China in New York. According to the company’s filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, their contract is to recruit netizens to post articles on social media platforms to promote the Beijing Winter Olympics.

David Bandurski, a member of the China Media Project, a Hong Kong-based research group, told the New York Times, “For the Chinese Communist Party, the Winter Olympics are inseparable from the broader political goal of building up the country’s national image.”

Inauthentic-looking Twitter accounts have also tried to popularize the profile of the Beijing Winter Olympics mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, by heavily pushing pictures of the mascot.

A researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Center, Albert Zhang, told the New York Times “If you want to push out a lot of content on something like the Beijing Olympics, this is an easy way to do it.”

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