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Twitter: China Has Mounted Campaign to Delegitimize Hong Kong Protests

SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter said on Monday that it had uncovered a coordinated effort by 936 accounts originating in China to delegitimize the anti-Beijing protests that have been taking place in Hong Kong for weeks using fake news and incendiary comments.

In a statement, the San Francisco-based social network said that it had suspended hundreds of Twitter accounts linked to the Hong Kong protests, citing a “significant state-backed information operation” to spread disinformation about them and delegitimize the actions of people who are taking to the streets in the massive demonstrations.

The social network said in a blog post that 936 accounts linked to China “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.”

“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation,” Twitter stated. “Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests.”

Twitter is banned by the Beijing government in China such that people have to connect with the social network using online private networks, although some of them use unblocked IP addresses to do so.

The company headed by Jack Dorsey said that some of the accounts had addresses originating within China.

The social network shared some of the messages posted by these accounts in which the users posed as both Chinese- and English-language news outlets showed images of violence and condemned violent actions by the protesters, specifically citing news coverage by the pro-Beijing newspapers Singtao Daily and Tai Kung Pao.

The accounts asserted that the legislative council building in Hong Kong had been destroyed in attacks by protesters and claimed that the demonstrators were either crazy and/or were receiving money from “bad” people.

In addition to the 936 accounts it suspended, Twitter also proactively suspended another 200,000 accounts that it said had been created to amplify and spread the anti-protester content.

Meanwhile, Facebook, the most-used social network in the world and which is also banned in China, said Monday that it had also taken down seven public pages, three groups and five user accounts for the same reasons cited by Twitter.

Facebook said that the accounts it targeted were behind “coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong.”

Facebook also said that more than 15,000 accounts had been following one or more of the banned pages and about 2,200 accounts joined at least one of the removed groups.

The former British colony of Hong Kong with its approximately 7.4 million people has been mired in massive demonstrations for the past 11 months, with the protesters demanding greater autonomy from Beijing and the establishment of a democratic regime for the region, something that China categorically opposes.

Britain restored sovereignty over the territory to China in 1997.


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