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Twitter shuts down over 170,000 accounts for spreading Chinese government narratives

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Twitter announced Thursday that it had shut down more than 170,000 accounts tied to the Chinese government.

Experts working with Twitter who reviewed the accounts said they pushed deceptive narratives around the Hong Kong protests, COVID-19, and other topics.

The company said the accounts were “spreading geopolitical narratives favourable to the Communist Party of China” and were removed for violating its platform manipulation policies.

Twitter’s takedown is the latest development in Silicon Valley’s attempt to thwart governments using social media platforms to push narratives in their favour.

Twitter is officially blocked in China, though many people in the country are able to access it using a VPN.

Among the targets of the Chinese campaign were overseas Chinese “in an effort to exploit their capacity to extend the party-state’s influence,” according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a group Twitter worked with to analyse the accounts.

Twitter said the accounts tweeted “predominantly in Chinese languages.”

Renee DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), who also analysed the accounts, said that many of those that posted about COVID-19 between March and May, had only been set up in late January.

“Narratives around COVID praise China’s response to the virus while tweets also use the pandemic to antagonise the US and Hong Kong activists,” SIO wrote in its analysis.

Twitter said it had identified 23,750 accounts it described as a “highly engaged core network” that were used to tweet content favourable to Beijing and a further 150,000 accounts that were used to amplify the content, for example, by retweeting content posted by core accounts.

The 23,750 accounts collectively tweeted 348,608 times, according to the researchers at Stanford.

Twitter said many of the accounts had been identified early and therefore had low follower counts and low engagement.
This is not the first action of this kind taken by Twitter.

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