Twitter disclosed more than 900 accounts originating from within China that deliberately attempted to promote disinformation in Hong Kong as activists engage in pro-democracy demonstrations in the region.
The company’s disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from inside the communist country. Twitter said in a blog post Monday that it has “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation” — the accounts were attempting to sow discord.
Many of the accounts accessed Twitter using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allows users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Twitter is blocked in China, so citizens must rely on alternative ways to gain access to the platform.
Twitter said in the post that a larger, spam network of approximately 200,000 accounts were suspended before they were active on the service.
One account titled “Dream News” tweeted about the demonstrators: “We don’t want you radical people in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!” Another account claimed to support President Donald Trump and included a bio that read: “Conservative News From the USA and Abroad. #Catholic Defender of the Constitution of the United States.”
Twitter’s report comes amid protests Sunday where an estimated 1.7 million people marched through the streets of Hong Kong.
Demonstrations began in March to protest a now-suspended extradition bill — citizens are demanding the release of imprisoned protesters, inquiries into police conduct, the resignation of current Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam and other reforms.
Twitter first noticed the irregularities and eventually notified Facebook, which identified about a dozen pages, accounts and groups that were also tied to the operation. The Facebook pages were followed by about 15,000 accounts, the company said.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in a blog post Monday.
Twitter also announced that it would no longer accept advertising from “state-controlled news media entities” after reports popped up Monday showing the company promoting tweets from China’s largest state news agency that depict pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as violent.
Twitter has not yet responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the nature of ad promotion. The company’s announcement coincided with the reports on the disinformation campaign Twitter discovered.
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