Wed, Aug 21, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong Protests: China aiding smear efforts: Twitter, Facebook

AFP, HONG KONG

Twitter and Facebook have accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and sow political discord in the territory.

The US tech giants on Monday announced they had suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to the campaign, while Twitter said that it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.

“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.

Facebook said that some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Islamic State group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged that they planned to kill people using slingshots.

Hong Kong is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets repeatedly to demand greater freedoms.

The Chinese Communist Party has warned that it might be prepared to deploy force to quell the nearly three months of unrest, and likened violent protesters to “terrorists.”

It has publicly largely left the territory’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis.

However, behind the scenes online, the Chinese government is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, Twitter and Facebook said.

“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.

It said that it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.

“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation,” Twitter said.

Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.

Due to the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using virtual private networks that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.

“However, some accounts accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP [Internet Protocol] addresses originating in mainland China,” it said.

Among the handles removed were pages linking to Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing newspapers describing protesters as “rioters,” it added.

Facebook said that it had acted on a tip-off from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.

China has come under repeated pressure from the UK and US to avoid a violent crackdown on protests.

However, Beijing has warned foreign governments not to interfere in its affairs, with relations with the UK especially icy over the Hong Kong issue.

A massive peaceful rally in Hong Kong on Sunday — which organizers said drew 1.7 million people to the territory’s rain-slicked streets — was seen as an attempt by the protest movement to reclaim the moral high ground after escalating violence.

No arrests were made and there were none of the tear gas-framed police baton charges that have characterized the past several weeks.

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