Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Thousands of accounts associated with Chinese Xinjiang propaganda have been removed off Twitter

HomeNewsThousands of accounts associated with Chinese Xinjiang propaganda have been removed off...

Twitter has deactivated 2,160 accounts associated with China regional and national propaganda efforts, the social media platform stated as part of its recent data release on disinformation campaigns. The stories were intended to counter charges that the Chinese government committed human rights violations against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang.

Additionally, Twitter described a campaign it identified in Tanzania that utilised copyright complaints to target staff members of the human rights organisation FichuaTanzania.

According to Twitter, 2,048 of the accounts “amplified Chinese Communist Party stories about the oppression of the Uyghur community,” while another 112 were associated with a regional government-backed commercial firm. However, according to a review by the Australian Public Policy Institute (ASPI), another of the three main research partners with which Twitter provided data, most of the propaganda was generated “embarrassingly.”

According to the thinktank’s study, each network sent over 30,000 tweets, frequently rejecting proof of human rights violations and seeking to promote the Chinese government’s version of events. Despite the gravity of the abuses, most of the data reviewed from the operation was associated with pornography, Korean tv drama material, and spam accounts, most likely as a result of the network acquiring and reusing existing accounts. Hundreds of the tweets were associated with the username @fuck next, while others attempted but failed to include former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The bulk of the profiles had a few subscribers, or nothing at all, and the vast majority of their posts had no interaction. An exception is when they were retweeted by Chinese authorities, exposing them to a far larger audience. It is stuff that is unlikely to attract new supporters but is “propaganda attractive to the base,” according to ASPI researcher Albert Zhang.

In comparison, the Tanzanian operation seems to have been substantially more sophisticated, despite the fact that it involved a much lower number of 268 profiles. Shelby Grossman, a Stanford Internet Observatory scientist who started working on the report, explained in a Twitter thread that now the pro-government network would start taking anti-government posts made by activists, reprint it on an alternate site with a date prior to the tweet, and then notify the tweet to Twitter for copyright violations, resulting in the tweet being removed.

“The technique sometimes succeeded,” Grossman says, noting that “Twitter removed two activist profiles, though both were eventually restored.” However, this is a tough predicament for activists to find themselves in, since opposing the copyright lawsuit may jeopardise the origin of the anti-government information.

The treatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghur people has been described as “genocide,” with widespread imprisonment, reeducation, forced labour, and even sterilisation allegedly taking place. Twitter has already struggled openly with Chinese authorities on human rights violations, and in January this year, the US embassy’s Twitter account was shut down for making reference to Uyghur women as “baby-making robots” prior to official involvement. The account looks to be shut as of this writing and hasn’t even tweeted since January.