Twitter and Facebook Block Nearly 1,000 Chinese Official “Fake News” Accounts

  • Twitter said the accounts are part of officially supported information warfare from China.
  • Facebook's removal of the above pages and accounts is not due to the content they publish, but because of the operational behavior behind them.
  • Many Chinese official media outlets have opened pages on Twitter and Facebook, and have purchased advertisements to promote content.

Social media Twitter and Facebook announced on Monday that they blocked a large number of accounts on their platforms. The two social media giants said that these accounts spread false information about Hong Kong demonstrations and they were dominated by Chinese officials.

Twitter is a microblogging and social networking service on which users post and interact with messages known as “tweets”. Tweets were originally restricted to 140 characters, but on November 7, 2017, this limit was doubled to 280 for all languages except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Registered users can post, like, and retweet tweets, but unregistered users can only read them. Users access Twitter through its website interface, through Short Message Service (SMS) or its mobile-device application software (“app”). Twitter, Inc. is based in San Francisco, California, and has more than 25 offices around the world.

Twitter has deactivated 936 accounts because they “spread false information” in order to “damage the rationality of Hong Kong’s political movement.” Twitter also said the accounts are part of officially supported information warfare from China. “We have reliable evidence that this is an official organization’s activities.”

Facebook removed 7 pages, 3 groups, and 5 accounts. These accounts are also alleged to involve the dissemination of fake news about Hong Kong. Among them, there are nearly 15,000 fans on the page, and another group has 2,200 members. Facebook’s statement writes that although the people involved are trying to hide their identity, “our survey found that those are associated with the individuals from the Chinese government.”

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s director of cybersecurity policy, said that Facebook’s removal of the above pages and accounts is not due to the content they publish, but because of the operational behavior behind them. “The people who operate them behind each other communicate with each other and use fake accounts to defraud identity.”

China’s “information war”

The outside world believes that China’s information warfare tactics are similar to those used in Russia, and it has grown in momentum by releasing a large amount of seditious information and false news. The social media platform has also removed fake information accounts from Russia.

Facebook and Twitter have published some of the information posted on fake informational accounts. Most of them are pictures with seditious text. The annotations are mainly in traditional Chinese and English. The list of problematic accounts published by Twitter shows that many account names are meaningless garbled characters, most of which use Chinese account names, and the rest are in English. Some accounts have almost no fans, while others have tens of thousands of fans. Even more amazing is that there are dozens of accounts with the same number of fans.

At the same time, Twitter announced that it will no longer accept state-controlled media to advertise on the Twitter platform, but has not named any media agency. How to define state-controlled media? Twitter states that control of content, funding sources, and direct and indirect political pressure are among the factors considered, but this policy “will not be used by taxpayer-funded entities, including the compilation of independent public media.” Twitter said that this policy was introduced to protect “reasonable discussions and open dialogue.”

China is both the world’s second-largest economy and a nuclear weapons state with the world’s second-largest defense budget. Chinese Information Operations and Information Warfare includes the concept of “network warfare”, which is roughly analogous to the United States concept of cyber-warfare. Foreign Policy magazine provided an estimated range for China’s “hacker army” personnel, anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals.

How does China “over the wall” play “information warfare”?

Both Twitter and Facebook were blocked in mainland China and could not be accessed directly. Twitter and Facebook have made many efforts to break into the Chinese market in recent years, but have not succeeded. In May of this year, Twitter was accused of temporarily blocking the accounts of some Chinese dissidents. Twitter subsequently apologized, referring to the company’s routine operations, not at the official request of China.

Many Chinese official media outlets, including People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, CGTN, China Daily, etc., have opened pages on Twitter and Facebook, and have purchased advertisements to promote content.

In the Hong Kong anti-delivery demonstrations, the Chinese government, in addition to blocking a large amount of information, has mobilized the full horsepower of their official media propaganda machine against the Hong Kong demonstrations, some of which were accused of disseminating false information.

CCTV recently reported that a Hong Kong female demonstrator with a right eye injury was hit by a protester instead of a police bag. CCTV also released a photo of the woman allegedly giving out money on the streets of Hong Kong, suggesting that she was responsible for paying people to protest. However, there is currently no conclusive evidence to support this report, but it has millions of comments and forwards on social media in China.

Such a distorted media space has split Hong Kong demonstrations in mainland China, Hong Kong and overseas into two far-reaching versions: one is a large-scale mass movement in which peace and excitement exist, and the other is driven by foreign agents. Violent attacks on the police have split China’s Hong Kong independence movement.

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Doris Mkwaya

I am a journalist, with more than 12 years of experience as a reporter, author, editor, and journalism lecturer." I've worked as a reporter, editor and journalism lecturer, and am very enthusiastic about bringing what I've learned to this site.  

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