Jessica Goodfellow
Jun 12, 2020

Twitter uncovers China-based network that has been pushing "deceptive narratives" about Hong Kong protests

Removal of China-based network part of broader weeding out of "state-linked" operations on Twitter.

Twitter uncovers China-based network that has been pushing

Twitter has removed a network of thousands of accounts originating from China that it said had been used to spread state propaganda and undermine the Hong Kong protest movement.

The social network revealed today (June 12) it had suspended 23,750 accounts originating from China, that made up a "highly engaged core network" of a much larger coordinated ploy to spread state propaganda and push "deceptive narratives" about the political dynamics in Hong Kong. 

A further 150,000 accounts were uncovered as "amplifier" accounts, to boost the content sowed by the core network. These accounts were also removed.

Twitter said the entire network was involved in a "range of manipulative and coordinated activities". This network is linked to an operation Twitter first uncovered in August 2019, when it discovered nearly 1,000 accounts that were being used to undermine the legitimacy and political positions of the Hong Kong protest movement.

Twitter said that while the number of accounts associated with the China-run operation is high, the core accounts were largely "caught early" and failed to achieve considerable traction on the service. Meanwhile, of the approximately 150,000 amplifier accounts, the majority had "little to no follower counts" and were strategically designed to artificially inflate impression metrics.

The discovery is part of Twitter's broader removal of "state-linked" operations run by China, Russia and Turkey, with a total of 32,242 accounts removed that were associated with these operations.

By far the biggest network was linked to China, representing nearly three-quarters (74%) of the core suspended accounts (not including the 150,000 amplifier accounts).

The Turkish network of "fake and compromised accounts" was made up of 7,340 accounts, which were being used to amplify political narratives favorable to the AK Parti, and demonstrated strong support for President Erdogan, Twitter said.

The Russian network was associated with Current Policy, a media website engaging in state-backed political propaganda. Twitter removed 1,152 accounts that were involved in activities including "promoting the United Russia party and attacking political dissidents", it said.

All the accounts that were removed have been published in a public archive. The "amplifier" accounts associated with the China operation have not been included in Twitter's public archive, because it needs to "better refine the disclosure process to enable efficient investigation of the core activity", it said.

The removal of the "state-linked" network is part of Twitter's effort to curb the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Earlier this week, Twitter said it was testing a new feature on Android devices that prompts users to open articles before sharing them. The feature, which asks users whether they have read an article before they retweet it, aims to help "promote informed discussion" and prevent users from sharing unverified information, it said.

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