Micro-blogging service Twitter has removed over 170,000 accounts in a bid to stop Chinese propaganda around coronavirus, George Floyd and Hong Kong protests.
The social media platform removed 23,750 core accounts and 150,000 other accounts created to boost the core accounts, reports Independent.
This comes as the accounts were linked to being favourable to the Chinese government, and unfavourable towards the Hong Kong protests.
Despite the app being blocked in China, the accounts were targeted at Chinese speakers around the world.
According to Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the online campaign was aimed at speakers outside of the country “with the intention of influencing perceptions on key issues, including the Hong Kong protests, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and, to a lesser extent, Covid-19 and Taiwan,” reports The Guardian.
Experts analysed the tweets – timings of the posts suggested most had been posted during business hours in Beijing, and only a limited amount on the weekend.
The analysis was based on 348,608 tweets from January 2018 and April 2020.
Majority of the accounts, 78.5% had no followers, with 95% containing less than eight followers – however these accounts had high levels of engagement which might not have been organic.
Tweets were predominantly favouring the Chinese government, with some focusing on the Black Lives Matter protests in the US.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute believes the intention behind the move is to create a “moral equivalence” between China and the US..
The institute added this would be through showing the “hypocrisy for its criticism of the response by police to protests in Hong Kong, while the US’s own police and troops use violence against protests in the US, and warns Hong Kong protesters not to think they can rely on the US for support against China’s national interests.”
In addition to this, messages were also targeted around Taiwan and the coronavirus pandemic.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China and the use of western accounts for campaigns is relatively new.
The researchers said: “We should expect continued evolution and improvement, given the enormous resourcing the Chinese party‑state can bring to bear in aligning state messaging across its diplomacy, state media and covert influence operations.”