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China Uses Army Of Fake Twitter Accounts

May 12th, 2021 13:02

US media is report­ing that a large-scale, pro-Chi­na net­work on Twit­ter is ampli­fy­ing Chi­nese offi­cial gov­ern­ment and state media accounts. An Asso­ci­at­ed Press inves­ti­ga­tion describes the net­work as “an army of fake accounts”:

A sev­en-month inves­ti­ga­tion by the Asso­ci­at­ed Press and the Oxford Inter­net Insti­tute, a depart­ment at Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty, found that China’s rise on Twit­ter has been pow­ered by an army of fake accounts that have retweet­ed Chi­nese diplo­mats and state media tens of thou­sands of times, covert­ly ampli­fy­ing pro­pa­gan­da that can reach hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple — often with­out dis­clos­ing the fact that the con­tent is gov­ern­ment-spon­sored.  More than half the retweets Liu got from June through Jan­u­ary came from accounts that Twit­ter has sus­pend­ed for vio­lat­ing the platform’s rules, which pro­hib­it manip­u­la­tion. Over­all, more than one in ten of the retweets 189 Chi­nese diplo­mats got in that time frame came from accounts that Twit­ter had sus­pend­ed by Mar. 1. But Twitter’s sus­pen­sions did not stop the pro-Chi­na ampli­fi­ca­tion machine. An addi­tion­al clus­ter of fake accounts, many of them imper­son­at­ing U.K. cit­i­zens, con­tin­ued to push Chi­nese gov­ern­ment con­tent, rack­ing up over 16,000 retweets and replies before Twit­ter kicked them off late last month and ear­ly this month, in response to the AP and Oxford Inter­net Institute’s investigation. […]

Twit­ter, and oth­ers, have iden­ti­fied inau­then­tic pro-Chi­na net­works before. But the AP and Oxford Inter­net Insti­tute inves­ti­ga­tion shows for the first time that large-scale inau­then­tic ampli­fi­ca­tion has broad­ly dri­ven engage­ment across offi­cial gov­ern­ment and state media accounts, adding to evi­dence that Beijing’s appetite for guid­ing pub­lic opin­ion – covert­ly, if nec­es­sary — extends beyond its bor­ders and beyond core strate­gic inter­ests, like Tai­wan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Read the rest here.

The inves­ti­ga­tion notes that the pro-Chi­na accounts that Twit­ter lat­er sus­pend­ed were active in a host of lan­guages, with pro­file descrip­tions in Eng­lish, Man­darin, Span­ish, Ara­bic, Hin­di, Ital­ian, French, Russ­ian, Kore­an, Urdu, Por­tuguese, Thai, Swedish, Japan­ese, Turk­ish, Ger­man and Tamil.

In April, we report­ed that Chi­na is employ­ing an exten­sive net­work of more than 20 mil­lion “inter­net com­men­ta­tors” — trolls tasked with arti­fi­cial­ly ampli­fy­ing con­tent favor­able to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Oth­er GIOR report­ing on China’s use of inau­then­tic social media net­works has included:

  • In May, we pub­lished an exclu­sive inves­ti­ga­tion expos­ing a net­work of Chi­nese fake accounts on YouTube upload­ing hun­dreds of videos of var­i­ous indi­vid­u­als deny­ing claims of forced labour in Xinjiang.
  • In March, we report­ed anoth­er Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tion flood­ing YouTube with hun­dreds of videos white­wash­ing China’s human rights vio­la­tions in Xin­jiang and push­ing the hash­tag #StopX­in­jian­gRu­mors.
  • In the same month, we report­ed that YouTube had tak­en down almost 3,000 chan­nels deemed part of a Chi­nese influ­ence operation.