Twitter said in a blog post that it suspended 936 accounts originating from mainland China that 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.”
Over the weekend, more than 1.7 million Hongkongers peacefully protested the Chinese regime’s growing influence on the city. The mass protests began almost three months ago in opposition to a now-suspended extradition bill that would allow people to be transferred to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The protests have since expanded to include broader calls for democracy and an investigation into police use of force during demonstrations.
“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” Twitter stated.
The Chinese regime, through official statements and state-media outlets, has consistently sought to vilify protesters in Hong Kong, depicting them as criminals in need of punishment, while applauding the actions of Hong Kong’s police.
Twitter said many of the accounts that spread the misleading information accessed Twitter through virtual private networks—programs commonly used to bypass China’s internet blockade by making it appear as though a user is located outside of China. In China, all online users can only access a censored version of the internet, scrubbed of “sensitive” content deemed by the Chinese regime to be a threat to its authority.
The company added that some accounts used “specific unblocked IP addresses” originating in mainland China to access Twitter.
In addition to the 936 active accounts, Twitter also targeted a larger “spammy network” of about 200,000 accounts that were suspended before they became active on the platform.
At the same time, Twitter announced it would no longer allow advertising from all state-controlled media outlets.
The company didn’t specify any news outlets, but said that the policy applied to outfits “either financially or editorially controlled by the state.” Twitter clarified that the policy doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded entities such as independent public broadcasters.
On the same day, Facebook said in a blog post that it removed several pages, groups, and accounts from a small network originating in China that used “deceptive tactics” to post about the Hong Kong protests.
“The individuals behind this campaign engaged in … the use of fake accounts—some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems—to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites,” according to the statement, which was attributed to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.
Gleicher added that though “people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.”
The company said that it conducted the internal investigation after receiving a tip from Twitter.
The blog post included examples of content posted on Facebook that violated its policies.
One Facebook post shows an image juxtaposing Hong Kong protesters with ISIS fighters, with the Chinese text, “What’s the difference?”
Another post shows an image of protesters photoshopped to look like cockroaches, with the Chinese text, “Cockroach soldiers.” The leader of a major Hong Kong police union previously labeled protesters as “cockroaches,” a moniker that has since been echoed by Chinese state media to malign the demonstrators.