Twitter says it has removed 170,000 accounts with links to China, Russia, and Turkey from the platform for spreading misinformation on important current issues.
The social media firm says that the accounts have links to an operation backed by China that last year pushed a narrative around the Hong Kong protests, and most recently the death of George Floyd and Covid-19.
Twitter has published information on 23,750 accounts that “comprise the core of the network”, and approximately 150,000 amplifier accounts designed to boost the original content.
According to research carried out by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the accounts were sending messages to users outside of China to inform opinion and push state messages.
Twitter is blocked in China, but the platform is being used “with the intention of influencing perceptions on key issues on users outside the country, including the Hong Kong protests, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and, to a lesser extent, Covid-19 and Taiwan,” ASPI said.
Twitter said in a blog post: “While this network is new, the technical links we used to identify the activity and attribute it to the PRC remain consistent with the activity we initially identified and disclosed in August 2019.
“Our proactive removal of this network from Twitter is a direct result of the technical efforts we instituted after thoroughly studying and investigating past coordinated information operations from the PRC.”
Twitter says that, despite the large volume of accounts, the core accounts were “largely caught early” and failed to achieve considerable traction on the platform. The core accounts and the amplifiers had “little to no follower counts”.
China is beginning to use its power to have an increasing influence on people outside of the country, with US lawmakers recently questioning Zoom for its ties to the country after suspending some accounts on its system after pressure from Beijing.
Three lawmakers asked Zoom Video Communications Inc (ZM.O) to provide clarification of its data-collection practices and relationship with the Chinese government.
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Chinese and American users have complained that their accounts were blocked after holding calls relating to the Tiananmen Square incident, a topic which is banned in China.
Zoom said it had been notified of the events and asked to take action by the Chinese government. It has now reinstated the accounts and says it will not accept further requests from China to affect users outside the country.
“We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government,” Zoom said in a statement. “We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”