Twitter removed more than 1.7 lakh accounts linked to influence campaigns from China focusing on US protests in relation to George Floyd, Covid-19 and Hong Kong protests.
Twitter announced that 23,750 core accounts and which were responsible for posting most of the content– had been removed from the platform after being linked to an influence campaign from the People’s Republic. Tweets posted by these accounts were then amplified by a secondary network of more than 150,000 accounts, acting as amplifiers.
"Of the approximately 150,000 amplifier accounts, the majority had little to no follower counts either and were strategically designed to artificially inflate impression metrics and engage with the core accounts," Twitter said.
Researchers at Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that while Twitter is blocked from access in China, the campaign was targeted at Chinese-speaking audiences outside the country “with the intention of influencing perceptions on key issues, including the Hong Kong protests, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and, to a lesser extent, Covid-19 and Taiwan”. The researchers analysed 348,608 tweets between January 2018 and April 2020 and found most tweets were posted during business hours in Beijing between Monday and Friday, and dropped off on the weekends
The social network said the entire operation was involved "in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities" and that most of their tweets were in the Chinese language.
The tweets usually contained images featuring Chinese-language text, with researchers finding that the first targets of the campaign were people living in Hong Kong , followed by broader Chinese diaspora.
According to Twitter, this Chinese network which was based in the People's Republic of China (PRC), had links to similar operations earlier with state-backed operations alongside Facebook and YouTube last year. That operation was all about spreading messages about the political situation in Hong Kong.
The major themes of tweets were the violent Hong Kong protesters, and US was interfering with the protests; accusations about Guo; Taiwan election; and praise of China’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and recent US protests in relation to George Floyd.
Focus has now shifted to Black Lives Matter protests in US, accusing the country of “hypocrisy for its criticism of the response by police to protests in Hong Kong , while the US’s own police and troops use violence against protests within US, and warns Hong Kong protesters to rely on US for support against China’s national interests”. At an equivalent time, Twitter also released the small print of 1,152 accounts related to promoting state-backed political propaganda from Russia, and 7,340 accounts promoting to Turkey’s AK party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Twitter said within the future, it might provide the archive of impression counts and other relevant information to know the impact such campaigns.