Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Disinformation Campaigns Targeting Hong Kong Protesters Run Rampant on Twitter

Maciej Cegłowski in a Twitter thread:

Every day I go out and see stuff with my own eyes, and then I go to report it on Twitter and see promoted tweets saying the opposite of what I saw. Twitter is taking money from Chinese propaganda outfits and running these promoted tweets against the top Hong Kong protest hashtags

What China is doing is clear. If these peaceful, extremely self-disciplined protesters who enjoy the clear backing of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kongers can be discredited, it will be easier to crack down. What the fuck Twitter thinks it’s doing is less clear.

Ryan Mac and Rosalind Adams, Buzzfeed News:

The Chinese government has struggled to contain the narrative of the months-long protests, which have seen pro-democracy activists face increasingly aggressive police tactics in the streets. Though Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, the Chinese state media runs several English-language accounts to present its views to the outside world.

“It’s very clear that the Chinese state media is essentially buying ads on Twitter and Facebook for the purpose of reaching an international audience as part of China’s effort to ‘tell its story better,’” said Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney. The Communist Party sees this “as critical in the battle of hearts and minds,” he added.

In a similar vein, Ryan Gallagher of the Intercept reported that the Chinese government was also buying ads on Twitter that served as propaganda against the Uighur people of Xinjiang.

Twitter responded:

Today, we are updating our advertising policies with respect to state media. Going forward, we will not accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities. Any affected accounts will be free to continue to use Twitter to engage in public conversation, just not our advertising products.

This is a global approach and will be enforced across our entire business.

The turnaround on this policy change was just a few days from when Cegłowski began tweeting about it, indicating that Twitter can change quickly when it needs to, and tacitly raising the question of why it takes so long for the company to react to other obvious shortcomings in its product.

Twitter also disclosed today that there was a coordinated astroturfing campaign of propaganda that used a little over 900 accounts in an effort to surreptitiously manipulate opinion and coverage of the demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Facebook has said that it won’t ban state-run media advertisers on its platform.