Xinjiang: Twitter Shuts Down Thousands of Chinese State-Linked Accounts Distributing Propaganda

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Twitter has shut down thousands of state-linked accounts in China seeking to counter evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang in what experts have called an “embarrassingly” produced propaganda operation .

The operations used photos and images, shell and potentially automated accounts, and fake Uyghur profiles, to disseminate state propaganda and false testimony about their happy lives in the region, seeking to dispel evidence of a campaign of oppression lasting several years, with mass internments, re-education programs and allegations of forced labor and sterilization.

As it turned out, the networks shared themes and content, but often used repurposed accounts dedicated to Korean pornography or soap operas with little engagement, except when amplified by Chinese diplomats and officials. Twitter is banned in China, but officials frequently maintain accounts abroad.

According to analysts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, the content of the 2,160 accounts that Twitter closed was often produced in an “embarrassing” manner but offered a level of “implausible denial” that confused the lines around the issue. question.

The accounts related to Chinese operations were in two sets, the largest being a network of 2,048 accounts amplifying the Chinese Communist Party’s accounts related to Xinjiang, and the second set of 112 accounts connected to “Changyu Culture”, a private company that , according to ASPI, appeared to be hired by the Xinjiang regional authority to create videos of Uyghurs supporting the government.

Over 30,000 tweets from each network have been identified, frequently replying to other tweets labeling the abuse evidence “lies” under the hashtag #StopXinjiangRumors or sharing videos that they claimed to be “the truth” from Xinjiang, or targeting foreign politicians while claiming to be a Uyghur Person.

When the data was analyzed by ASPI, it found much of it related to pornography, Korean soap opera fans, spam accounts and content. “It’s probably because they took those existing accounts and reused them,” said Fergus Ryan, senior analyst at ASPI.

“They take it over and pump out this content which is usually pretty responsive… It’s so clunky and really not very well done. One of the really weird things about a dataset was that for some reason they included hundreds of tweets with that nickname for a @fuck_next account.

The tweets also repeatedly mislabel the account of former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and numerous videos linked to the now suspended Culture Changyu YouTube channel, known to be a marketing organization backed by provincial authorities in Xinjiang. .

The result was a torrent of highly implausible propaganda, obvious to most to see but still worrying, ASPI said.

ASPI found that 97% of identified accounts had fewer than five subscribers and 73% of accounts had none. While 98% of tweets did not have likes or retweets, the rest were often spurred on by Chinese diplomats and officials, spreading the content and giving it legitimacy.

“The target is not really people skeptical of the Chinese government, but giving content to people who trust Chinese state media and are skeptical of Western mainstream media,” he said. said Albert Zhang, researcher at ASPI. “It’s propaganda that appeals to the grassroots. “

The ASPI report said the propaganda campaign reflected the likely direction of future Chinese Communist Party (CCP) information operations. However, Zhang and Ryan also said it also shows that there may be a lack of understanding from Chinese propaganda and media providers about what is credible or legitimate – as was shown last month. with attempts to refute concerns about tennis star Peng Shuai.

Ryan said a suitcase term originally attributed to China’s surveillance system – “Chabudwellian” – also applied here, combining “Orwellian” with the Chinese term “cha bu duo”, which means “almost” but is often used to describe something done with little or minimal effort.

“Outside of China, foreigners think their surveillance system is very sophisticated… but in reality most of the time this infrastructure is rigged and not very efficient,” Ryan said. “This can also apply to information campaigns. “



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