China’s attempt to spread CCP coronavirus propaganda through international social media platforms recently took a hit as Twitter removed over 170,000 pro-CCP accounts. About 23,750 of them were highly active accounts that acted as the core network of disinformation campaigns. Almost 150,000 of them were “amplifier accounts” used to spread the messages on the platform.
China’s Twitter propaganda
The banned Twitter account network has links to an earlier account network that Twitter had blocked last year. The current network was promoting wrong information about COVID-19 as well as the situation in Hong Kong. Twitter pointed out that the identifying features of the propaganda accounts were that almost every one of them had few followers and low levels of engagement.
Tweets focusing on COVID-19 cheered Beijing’s response to the viral outbreak, called on Chinese people across the world to unite, and projected the Chinese regime as being an important stakeholder in the international community. When it comes to HK protests, the propaganda network was seen using the U.S. government response to Black Lives Matter protests as a justification for why Beijing is cracking down on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.
Most of the messages were being tweeted in Chinese languages, indicating that the CCP was targeting Chinese ethnic people living outside the country. Other topics covered by the network included Taiwan and exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. After Twitter removed the propaganda accounts, the Chinese government went on an offensive, denying involvement in the network. A foreign ministry spokesman claimed that China was the “biggest victim” of false information.
Fergus Hanson, Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) International Cyber Policy Centre, which worked with the company on the takedown, called out the Chinese regime for practicing a double standard when it came to social media platforms. “While the Chinese Communist Party won’t allow the Chinese people to use Twitter, our analysis shows it is happy to use it to sow propaganda and disinformation internationally,” he said, as reported by CBC. ASPI noted that Beijing’s increasing focus on Western social media platforms is a relatively new trend. The COVID-19 outbreak has given the Chinese regime an environment to experiment with manipulative campaigns aimed at global social media users.
Twitter also deleted over 1,000 accounts linked to a media website from Russia that was promoting state-backed propaganda. Some of the main activities included promoting the United Russia party and attacking political dissidents in the country. Over 7,000 fake accounts focused on promoting the ruling party in Turkey were also suspended. A Turkish official claimed that this was done to smear the ruling party.
Worsening viral crisis
While Beijing is focused on spreading lies about the COVID-19 situation internationally, things are not looking too bright back home. Recently, over 1,200 flights in Beijing were canceled and the city’s schools were shut down in a hurry as reports of a new COVID-19 outbreak started to spread. This outbreak was linked to a wholesale food market. The government has given strict instructions to residents to not leave Beijing. Fear of a massive second wave of infections is making people tense.
Thousands of people who have visited the food market recently are being tested. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have visited the market since May 30. Almost 30 residential compounds in Beijing were locked down by the officials. Other provinces are quarantining visitors from Beijing. About 11 markets and thousands of food stores were disinfected after the new outbreak came to light.