Twitter and Facebook once again cleaned up China’s big propaganda accounts

Twitter and Meta, formerly known as Facebook, announced that they recently removed thousands of accounts linked to China’s disinformation campaign. This is a new setback for China’s outreach efforts, which have been gaining momentum in recent years.

Xinjiang Narrative Whitewashing Taiping

Twitter announced on Thursday (Dec. 2) that more than 2,000 accounts that amplify the CCP’s Xinjiang narrative had been removed, and that “a representative case sample of 2,048 accounts will be released.”

“We also removed 112 accounts associated with ‘Changyu Culture’, a private company backed by the Xinjiang local government,” Twitter added.

Twitter and Facebook once again cleaned up China’s big propaganda accounts

The Stanford Internet Observatory said 112 accounts and 35,924 tweets spread pro-CCP rhetoric related to Xinjiang, all posted by Changyu Culture. This is the first time Twitter has identified a private Chinese company for engaging in propaganda for the CCP.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analysed two networks linked to the Chinese government in a new report released on Tuesday. They try to influence discourse about Xinjiang through platforms such as Twitter and YouTube. The event is aimed at Chinese-speaking diaspora and international audiences, sharing content in multiple languages.

The report also said both networks sought to shape the international community’s perception of issues such as Xinjiang. These efforts include the use of Western social media platforms to discredit Western reports on Xinjiang and testimonies from Uighurs. ​

The systematic persecution of Uighurs by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang is drawing growing international attention. Some international human rights groups say Xinjiang’s sprawling internment camps hold at least one million Muslims from Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. The detainees were allegedly subjected to torture, forced sterilization, brainwashing, forced labor and other ill-treatment.

In addition, Chinese authorities have used various means to force Uyghurs to abandon their traditions and beliefs. In a report released in May, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) condemned the Chinese government’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslim imams in the Xinjiang region in an attempt to cut off the intergenerational transmission of religious knowledge.

Chinese officials deny accusations of mistreatment of Uighurs and “forcible demolition of mosques”, calling them a “big lie.” The Chinese side argues that the essence of the Xinjiang issue is an issue of counter-terrorism, de-radicalization, and anti-separatism, not a so-called human rights and religion issue.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project released a report last July saying the Chinese government was trying to engineer and promote a “whitewashed and justified” narrative in response to international criticism of its mass and arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project said the Chinese government issued a secrecy directive in 2017 as it increased the number of internment camps. Chinese officials even claim that people in Xinjiang are the happiest Muslims in the world, and there is no such thing as re-education camps. Since 2019, the official media has also launched a publicity blitz.

Swiss “scientists” from China?

A China-linked disinformation network has used hundreds of fake social media accounts to spread a baseless claim that the United States pressured scientists to blame China for the coronavirus, Meta said Wednesday. Among the accounts was one belonging to a fictitious Swiss biologist.

The Associated Press reported that the account was set up in July and the head of the household identified himself as Swiss biologist Wilson Edwards. The account was created on the day it claimed without evidence that U.S. officials were using “enormous pressure and even intimidation” to get scientists to back calls to re-investigate the origins of the new coronavirus.

Within hours, hundreds of other accounts, some of which were created that day, started liking, posting or linking to the post, the report said. Many of the accounts were later found to be fake accounts, with some users posing as Westerners and using fake avatars that others might have used.

The Swiss embassy in China later refuted the rumors, saying that Switzerland does not have any registered citizen named Wilson Edwards, and there are no academic articles under this name in the biological community.

Metaverse did not directly attribute the network to the Chinese government. But mentioned that employees of Chinese state-owned enterprises have worked hard to amplify these misleading statements,

“We removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, 4 groups and 86 Instagram accounts,” Metaverse said Wednesday. The network originated primarily in China, targeting global English-speaking users in the U.S. and U.K., as well as Taiwan, Chinese audience in Hong Kong and Tibet.”

Metaverse went on to say: “We began investigating this activity after reviewing public reports of a single fake account for this action center. Our investigation uncovered links to individuals in mainland China, including Sichuan Sichuan Information Technology Co., Ltd. Silence Information Technology Co, Ltd) and individuals associated with Chinese state-owned infrastructure companies around the world.”

Bret Schafer, a researcher who studies digital disinformation at the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy, told The Associated Press that China’s disinformation network has always been arbitrary.

The discovery of the metaverse shows that China is still developing its strategy of influence operations, while Russia has spent decades orchestrating a disinformation campaign to target unwitting Americans, going undetected for years.

Schaefer also said: “The Chinese approach is still a bit sloppy. I can’t imagine the Russians doing something like this, creating a character out of thin air.”

In addition, Oxford University researchers also discovered a new wave of false information about the origin of the new coronavirus on international social media platforms such as Twitter a few months ago, with hundreds of “pro-China accounts” trying to direct the source of the new coronavirus to cold-chain American lobsters . The findings of the Oxford team also reveal to a certain extent the chain of dissemination of new crown disinformation linked to China.

Sunbal Razzaq

Sunbal Razzaq is the founder & CEO of Sunshine Tips.

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