Twitter deletes more than 170,000 accounts, some of which tried to spin Covid-19 in favor of China

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The company said the accounts “were spreading geopolitical stories favorable to the Chinese Communist Party” and had been withdrawn for violating its platform manipulation policies.

The withdrawal of Twitter is the latest development in Silicon Valley’s attempt to thwart governments by using social media platforms to push stories in their favor.

Twitter is officially blocked in China, although many people in the country can access it using a VPN. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a group that Twitter worked with to analyze the accounts was among the targets of the Chinese campaign of overseas Chinese “to exploit their ability to extend the influence of the party -State ”. Twitter said the accounts tweeted “mostly in Chinese languages”.

Renee DiResta, director of research at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who also analyzed the accounts, said that many of those who published articles on Covid-19 throughout the spring were only created the end of January.

“Stories around Covid,” wrote the SIO in its analysis, “praising China’s response to the virus while the tweets also use the pandemic to upset American and Hong Kong activists. “Twitter said it identified 23,750 accounts it described as a “very committed core network” that was used to tweet Beijing-friendly content and another 150,000 accounts that were used to amplify content, for example by retweeting the content published by the main accounts.

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

Twitter said many accounts were identified early and therefore had a low number of followers and low engagement.

This is not the first such action taken by Twitter. In August 2019, the company deleted just under 1,000 accounts operating in mainland China for “having deliberately and specifically attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong”.

The company also announced Thursday that it has closed accounts linked to Russia and Turkey.

Twitter found more than 1,000 accounts promoting the ruling United Russia party.

In Turkey, a network of 7,340 accounts published content favorable to the AK party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Stanford researchers said the accounts had tweeted 37 million times.

Tweets from many closed Twitter accounts will be posted by the company in archives where they can be researched.

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