Home / Technology / YouTube, Facebook, Twitter nix fake anti-Hong Kong propaganda accounts

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter nix fake anti-Hong Kong propaganda accounts

Students attend a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on August 22, 2019.
Enlarge / Students attend a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on August 22, 2019.

ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

YouTube has disabled 210 accounts linked to the recent protests in Hong Kong, Google announced in a carefully worded blog post on Thursday. Google says the removals are “consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”

Earlier this week, Twitter deleted hundreds of accounts connected to the Hong Kong protests. Twitter described it as a “significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.” Twitter tipped off Facebook, which deleted several accounts.

In plain English, Twitter suspected that the Chinese government created or hijacked a bunch of accounts to post propaganda defending Hong Kong’s police and attacking Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors. Facebook and YouTube followed up by deleting accounts on their platforms with similar patterns of misinformation.

A China state of mind

To substantiate its allegations, Twitter published a database of tweets from the suspended accounts. This thread gives a fun example. A woman from Colorado created a Twitter account named saydullos1d in 2013. For the first few months, she tweeted in English about outdoor activities like deer hunting. Then her account went quiet for about four years.

She became active on Twitter in 2018, but now all of her tweets were in Chinese. In recent weeks she became interested in the protests in Hong Kong, declaring her support for the Hong Kong police and attacking protestors for threatening law and order.

“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 in its Monday blog post.

Facebook showed examples of removed content in its own post. The posts depicted Hong Kong’s protestors—who have been overwhelmingly peaceful—as masked, violent vigilantes. A couple of posts also dismissed the protestors as “cockroaches.”

Google was more circumspect in its own post, saying that the suspect accounts used “VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations.” But it didn’t provide examples of removed content, nor explicitly say that the content was part of a state-sponsored campaign—though the references to Twitter and Facebook are clearly intended to give that impression.

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