Facebook, Twitter accuse China of running disinformation campaign against Hong Kong protesters

By Annie Palmer

Twitter and Facebook have suspended numerous accounts that they say are tied to a Chinese disinformation campaign against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Twitter said Monday it suspended 936 accounts likely related to the activity. The company said the disinformation campaign was designed to “sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political protest movement on the ground.”

Over the weekend, approximately 1.7 million anti-government protestersgathered in Hong Kong to rally peacefully against the Chinese government, which assumed rule of the former British colony in 1997. Protests erupted in June following a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.

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

Following Twitter’s announcement, Facebook said in a blog post that it was acting on a tip from Twitter. Both companies face increased pressure to crack down on fake accounts and false content on their platforms in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, during which foreign actors used the sites to sow division around social issues.

Twitter’s latest move comes after social media site Pinboard warned days earlier that China was using Twitter to distribute posts from state media discrediting the protests.

Twitter is blocked in China, but many of the accounts it discovered were using virtual private networks, which encrypt and anonymize web traffic. The accounts it suspended represent the “most active” portion of the broader spam campaign, which it estimates to include about 200,000 accounts.

As a result of the announcement, Twitter said it would no longer accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities.

The company didn’t call out any specific news outlets in the post, but said it was including any entities that are “either financially or editorially controlled by the state.” The organizations are still able to use the platform for communication, just not for advertisements.

Twitter clarified that the updated policy doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded entities, such as independent public broadcasters.

Facebook removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts in what it calls coordinated inauthentic behavior targeting Hong Kong. About 15,500 accounts followed one or more of the now-deactivated pages, while roughly 2,200 accounts joined at least one of the groups, Facebook said.

This article first appeared on CNBC https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/19/twitter-accuses-china-of-running-disinformation-campaign-against-hong-kong-protesters.html and is republished with its permission.

Partner Content

Disruptive digital solutions is rewiring the DNA of Banking

By Kennedy Mubita, Africa Head, SC Ventures. Imagine a bank whose customers can tap on a wearable device to...

The future of banking; digitization and collaboration as growth accelerants

By Kariuki Ngari, CEO & Managing Director, Standard Chartered, Kenya & East Africa COVID-19 has upended the social and...

Star Quality Speaker Line-Up at Africa Tech Festival 2020

Acknowledged as the world’s largest Africa-focused digital infrastructure and emerging tech event, the Africa Tech Festival has always attracted a stellar line-up of critical thinkers, analysts, futurists, keynote and inspirational speakers. 2020 will more than deliver on that reputation, with a stimulating array of visionary industry presenters, raconteurs and even some sporting greats.

Newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox