Social media platforms Twitter and Facebook have suspended a multitude of accounts they believe to be part of a “coordinated state-backed operation” to spread disinformation about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protesters. They specifically banned accounts they found were linked to the Chinese government.
Twitter said in a statement that it had removed 936 accounts originating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) it believed 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”.
The company said it had “reliable evidence” that a “large cluster” of accounts had been coordinating their efforts to “amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests”. Although Twitter is blocked in the PRC, this ban is often circumnavigated using a virtual private network (VPN), a digital service that allows users to access region-restricted websites and shields browsing activity.
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Following a tip-off from Twitter, Facebook took similar action banning seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts which the company said were also “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior” that was focused on Hong Kong.
On investigation Facebook found that the people behind the activity, who had tried to conceal their identity, were individuals linked to the Chinese government.
Facebook said: “We will continue monitoring and will take action if we find additional violations. We’ve shared our analysis with law enforcement and industry partners.” Below are examples of the type of content the banned accounts were posting and sharing.
Last weekend, Twitter came under fire for allowing Xinhua news agency, the official state-run press agency of the PRC, to buy sponsored posts on the network. Twitter hastily responded stating that it would no longer allow such ads.
“Going forward, we will not accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities,” the company said. “Any affected accounts will be free to continue to use Twitter to engage in public conversation, just not our advertising products.
“Any affected accounts will be free to continue to use Twitter to engage in public conversation, just not our advertising products.” However, the company said that the new policy did not apply to “taxpayer-funded entities, including independent public broadcasters”.