Twitter removes more than 170,000 accounts linked to Beijing-backed propaganda campaign

(Reuters) — Twitter on Thursday mentioned it eliminated greater than 170,000 accounts tied to a Beijing-backed affect operation that deceptively unfold messages favorable to the Chinese language authorities, together with concerning the coronavirus.

The corporate suspended a core community of 23,750 extremely energetic accounts, in addition to a bigger community of about 150,000 “amplifier” accounts used to spice up the core accounts’ content material.

Twitter, together with researchers who analyzed the accounts, mentioned the community was largely an echo chamber of faux accounts with out a lot additional traction.

Twitter, together with different American social media corporations, similar to Fb and Instagram, is blocked in China.

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The corporate additionally eliminated two smaller state-backed operations it attributed to Russia and Turkey, each centered on home audiences.

Twitter mentioned the Chinese language community had hyperlinks to an earlier state-backed operation dismantled final 12 months by Twitter, Fb, and Google’s YouTube that had been pushing deceptive narratives about political dynamics in Hong Kong.

The brand new operation likewise centered closely on Hong Kong but in addition promoted messages concerning the coronavirus pandemic, exiled Chinese language billionaire Guo Wengui, and Taiwan, the researchers mentioned.

Renee DiResta, on the Stanford Web Observatory, mentioned the community’s coronavirus exercise ramped up in late January, because the outbreak unfold past China, and spiked in March.

Accounts praised China’s response to the virus, whereas additionally utilizing the pandemic to antagonize the USA and Hong Kong activists, she mentioned.

Open supply researchers at Graphika and Bellingcat had earlier flagged the reemergence of the “Spamouflage Dragon” community, after it went dormant following the businesses’ takedowns final summer season.

The U.S. State Division mentioned in Could it had discovered a community of inauthentic Twitter accounts with “extremely possible” linkages to China disseminating false coronavirus claims.

Twitter pushed again on the assertions on the time, saying the 5,000 accounts the company recognized included professional non-governmental organizations and journalists.

A Twitter spokesperson on Thursday mentioned the community it eliminated was not associated to what the State Division had recognized.

Over the previous 12 months, a lot of Chinese language diplomats and diplomatic missions arrange Twitter or Fb accounts, typically utilizing them to assault Beijing’s critics around the globe.

Final month, Twitter flagged a tweet written in March by a Chinese language authorities spokesperson that steered the U.S. army introduced the novel coronavirus to China, because the social media platform ramps up fact-checking of posts.

China’s international ministry didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

(Reporting by Katie Paul and Pei Li, enhancing by Tom Brown and Stephen Coates.)

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