Social media giants pull plug on China anti-HK protest campaign

Twitter and Facebook say they have dismantled a state-backed information operation originating in mainland China that sought to undermine protests in Hong Kong.

Aug 20, 2019, updated Aug 20, 2019
Twitter say posts seeking to undermine the Hong Kong protests came from China, where the platform is banned. Photo: AP/Vincent Thian

Twitter say posts seeking to undermine the Hong Kong protests came from China, where the platform is banned. Photo: AP/Vincent Thian

Twitter said it suspended 936 accounts and the operations appeared to be a co-ordinated state-backed effort originating in China.

Describing it as a campaign “to sow political discord in Hong Kong”, Twitter denounced what it described as “manipulative” behaviour.

“This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China,” Twitter said in a blog post.

The social media giant is banned in the country. Twitter said some of the users appeared to be employing VPNs while others seemed to have accessed the website directly from mainland China.

“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation,” Twitter said.

Facebook said it had removed accounts and pages from a small network. It said that its investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.

The Hong Kong protests, which have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, began in June as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. They have since swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Twitter in a blog post said the accounts undermined the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

In a separate statement, the social media company also said it was updating its advertising policy and would not accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities going forward.

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“We will be making policy determinations on the basis of critical issues of media freedom and independence,” the company said, noting this include a broad range of issues, from ownership structures to political pressure.

The recent Chinese ad buying spree to counter the narrative of the protestors in Hong Kong, who are pushing for democracy and self-government free from Beijing’s guiding hand, also saw the media houses purchasing space on Facebook.


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