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.
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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.