The social network Twitter announced on Monday, Aug. 19 the suspension of 936 accounts linked to the communist regime in Beijing that worked to discredit the massive pro-democracy citizen movement in Hong Kong.
“Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter explained in a statement posted on its blog.
It claims it has enough evidence to ensure that this operation is backed by the Chinese Communist Party.
According to BuzzFeed News, on Saturday the state-run China Daily promoted a tweet featuring a cartoon of a demonstrator with a Molotov cocktail and a U.S. flag on one of the two plates of a scale while on the other, heavier plate, there was a group of people of all ages, some with communist flags.
The tweet was titled: Public enemy.
“I just came home from a completely peaceful march where possibly a million Hong Kong residents came out, with no police in sight, to call for basic democratic rights. What greets me is straight up lies from Xinhua about “bands of thugs,” courtesy of Twitter advertising,” a user wrote on the network.
Two months ago, hundreds of thousands of citizens of the Hong Kong Special Region began a massive mobilization against the extradition bill that could be a ‘blank check’ so that Beijing could send any citizen to mainland China without legal guarantees.
Although the protests are peaceful, the CCP-controlled media is publishing a very different and distorted version of the story, using advertising on social networks to “discredit and dehumanize the authentic voice of Hong Kong,” Twitter users protest.
“Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” the Twitter statement said.
Twitter explains that the blocked accounts are part of a much larger network of at least 200,000 accounts, some of them created after the recent suspension.
According to the social network these profiles violate a large number of platform policies such as: spam, coordinated activity, fake accounts, attributed activity, or ban evasion.
“Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service—they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” said Twitter.
“For our part, we are committed to understanding and combating how bad-faith actors use our services,” the company said.
For its part, Facebook, alerted by Twitter of the existence of these operations, announced the removal of seven pages, three groups, and five accounts “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong,” the statement points out.
Nathanial Gleicher, head of Facebook’s Cybersecurity Policy, explained, “The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake (…) to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites.”
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Gleicher said.
The company published in the communiqué examples of this misleading material disseminated through this operation among which there are images comparing demonstrators with ISIS terrorists or photographic montages showing young demonstrators with cockroach bodies.
“We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” added the Facebook employee.
Both Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.
China is, under the regime of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom with a score of 88/100, according to an investigation by Freedom House in 2018.
The cybersecurity law, which went into effect June 1, 2017, increased censorship requirements, mandated data localization, and codified real-name registration rules for internet companies.
And this law is also mandatory for foreign technology companies operating on Chinese territory such as Apple, which in February 2018 transferred the storage of Chinese user data to the state-owned and therefore government-controlled Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, the investigation explains.
Censorship and disinformation within China’s borders are commonplace; however, this coordinated propaganda operation against the protests in Hong Kong shows that it also takes place outside the borders of the Asian giant.
However, this is the first time that Twitter or Facebook have blamed the Beijing regime for this type of behavior.
In fact, last year Facebook was caught up in a big controversy over Chinese technology companies.
The social network allowed Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, and TCL, among other mobile manufacturers, access to the information of friends of its users, which means that such data, according to Chinese law, are accessible to the Beijing regime.
Huawei has been under the microscope of the U.S. intelligence services since 2012, after Congress considered it a national security risk.
The fear of U.S. intelligence services is that foreign spies will use these foreign telecommunications companies to penetrate their basic infrastructure.
Now, Twitter and Facebook have uncovered a macro operation to influence international public opinion with propaganda spread through advertisements on social networks.
“We will continue to be vigilant, learning from this network and proactively enforcing our policies to serve the public conversation. We hope that by being transparent and open we will empower further learning and public understanding of these nefarious tactics,” concludes Twitter’s statement.