As part of its most recent data release on misinformation operations, Twitter announced the removal of 2,160 accounts tied to Chinese regional and official propaganda activities. The testimonies were written in response to charges that the Chinese government had committed human rights violations against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
In addition, Twitter has described a campaign it identified in Tanzania that utilized copyright complaints to target members and supporters of the FichuaTanzania human rights organization.
According to Twitter, 2,048 of the accounts “amplified Chinese Communist Party themes pertaining to the treatment of the Uyghur population,” with another 112 linked to a regional government-backed commercial firm. However, much of the propaganda was “embarrassingly” manufactured, according to an examination by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), one of the three research partners with which Twitter exchanged information.
According to data from the thinktank, each network sent out over 30,000 tweets, often rejecting the evidence of human rights violations and attempting to promote the Chinese government’s version of events, as reported by The Guardian. Despite the gravity of the abuses, much of the information reviewed from the campaign was linked to pornography, Korean soap opera content, and spam accounts, most likely because the network had taken over and reused existing accounts.
Hundreds of the tweets were linked to the @fuck next account, while others attempted but failed to tag former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The majority of the accounts had few, if any, followers, and the vast majority of their tweets had received no engagement. The one time they were retweeted by Chinese officials, who exposed them to a considerably larger audience. According to ASPI analyst Albert Zhang, it’s stuff that won’t win over new supporters but is “propaganda attractive to the base.”
The operation related to Tanzania, on the other hand, appears to have been far more sophisticated, despite the fact that it involved a considerably smaller number of 268 accounts. Shelby Grossman, a Stanford Internet Observatory researcher who worked on the report, explained in a Twitter thread that the pro-government network would take anti-government content posted by activists, republish it on an external website with a date that predated the tweet, and then report the tweet to Twitter for copyright violations.
“The technique worked occasionally,” Grossman says, “as Twitter suspended two activist accounts, but both were eventually reinstated.” However, the activists are in a delicate predicament because fighting the copyright case may jeopardize the source of the anti-government material.
The treatment of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang has been described as “genocide,” with mass internments, reeducation, forced labor, and even sterilization being reported. Twitter has previously clashed with Chinese authorities on human rights violations, with the US embassy’s Twitter account being closed in January this year for referring to Uyghur women as “baby-making robots” prior to government intervention. The account looks to be shut as of this writing, and it hasn’t tweeted since January 9th.
Twitter says it has eliminated accounts tied to misinformation campaigns from Mexico, Russia, Uganda, and Venezuela, in addition to these China and Tanzania-associated activities.