Twitter has announced this week that they have deleted over 170,000 accounts that have been tied to a Chinese state-linked operation that purposefully spread misinformation regarding Covid-19, the protests and politics in Hong Kong, as well as other current political issues worldwide.
Twitter described around 25,000 of these accounts as the “core network” of the operation, meaning they were the bigger accounts with more followings. The other 150,000 accounts were used to amplify the messages tweeted by the core network. This would entail either Retweeting, liking, sharing, quote-tweeting, or emphasizing the original tweet so it can continue to spread around the platform.
“In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities. They were Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Twitter continued on in their statement to state that these particular accounts were also linked to a Chinese state-backed operation that took place last year in order to spread misinformation about the Hong Kong protests specifically. The accounts from last year’s operation have since been taken down, but the resurgence of these new accounts regarding all things Covid-19 has caused the same issue to re-emerge.
The Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) recently performed an analysis of all these accounts in order to determine which ones were spreading the false information pertaining to Covid-19. This made it easier to find, target, and delete the accounts, analysts claim that these accounts have been working since the beginning of this pandemic back in March.
The main content that was being spread on these accounts focused heavily on praising China’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and while most of the accounts had less than 10 followers and no biographies, the SIO concluded they had tweeted hundreds of thousands of times (around 350,000 to be more specific).
“Narratives around COVID-19 primarily praise China’s response to the virus, and occasionally contrast China’s response against that of the U.S. government or Taiwan’s response, or use the presence of the virus as a means to attack Hong Kong activists. The English-language content included pointed reiterations of the claim that China – not Taiwan – had a superior response to containing coronavirus,” the SIO wrote in its analysis.
Some of the accounts that Twitter shut down this week were also tied to Russian and Turkish state-linked misinformation efforts. Within the ~170,000 accounts around 1,000 of them were Russian bot accounts linked to state-backed political propaganda advertisers in Russia. 7,300 of the accounts were linked to Turkey’s government and were primarily praising Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The Russian and Turkish accounts were found to have collectively tweeted over 40 million times before Twitter took them down. Twitter also announced in their blog post that they would be hosting a conference later this summer to “bring experts, industry, and government together to discuss opportunities for further collaboration around removing deceptive state-backed social media campaigns.”
For accurate information regarding the coronavirus, one should never trust what they see on social media. Instead, go to the CDC’s website and get the information directly from the source.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.