TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – In late August, the social media platform Twitter shut down more than 200,000 accounts determined to be spreading misinformation related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
After the data for those accounts was made public, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) carried out an investigation and found that many of the accounts involved in the disinformation campaign were spamming pornographic content prior to being re-purposed to target the Hong Kong protests. The results of the investigation were released on Tuesday (Sept. 3) under the title “Tweeting through the Great Firewall.”
The report reveals new aspects of coordinated Chinese disinformation campaigns and online activity of Chinese agents on the World Wide Web. In addition to spamming pornography, many accounts were also spreading content related to sports and K-Pop before the wave of Hong Kong-related content.
Among the accounts removed by the mass suspension, Twitter identified 936 core accounts linked directly to China. Quantas provides an analysis of the ASPI report explaining that most of the accounts involved were probably purchased in bundles, with false information then being broadcast to followers the spam accounts had already accumulated.
However, some of the China-linked accounts in question had previously been used for propaganda purposes, with some broadcasting messages about Guo Wengui (郭文貴), a controversial Chinese expat living in exile in New York City. Other accounts had previously spread disinformation about Gui Minhai (桂民海), a Hong Kong bookseller abducted by Chinese authorities outside of China in 2015.
Calling the disinformation campaign “clumsy,” ASPI analyst Elise Thomas notes that it lacked subtlety and precision in its execution, which indicates that it was hastily implemented. The ASPI analysis reveals that China’s propagandists likely have a new appreciation for the power of social media outside of China’s intranet and may now consider it necessary to increase engagement there.