A huge peaceful rally on Sunday, which organisers said drew 1.7 million people to Hong Kong's streets, was seen as a show of enduring widespread community support for the pro-democracy movement Photo: AFP
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Twitter, Facebook accuse China of Hong Kong discord campaign

15 Comments
By Philip Fong

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 city.

The American tech giants announced Monday they had suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to the campaign, while Twitter said 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 some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Islamic State group militants, branded them "cockroaches" and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world's most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.

China's communist rulers have warned they may be prepared to deploy force to quell the nearly three months of unrest, and likened violent protesters to "terrorists".

However, they have publicly largely left the city's leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis.

Behind the scenes online though, the Chinese government is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.

"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 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. Because of 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 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".

Facebook said it had acted on a tip off from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had abut 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.

A huge peaceful rally on Sunday, which organizers said drew 1.7 million people to the city'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 characterised recent weeks.

On Tuesday embattled city leader Carrie Lam recognized the "largely peaceful" nature of the mass rally, appearing to soften her previously hardline towards the protests.

"I sincerely wish this meant our society is moving away from violence," she told reporters in her first reaction to Sunday's rally.

But she did not offer substantial concessions to the protest demands for an independent probe into alleged police brutality and to officially withdraw the flashpoint extradition bill.

Experts say the protests will likely continue using both violent and non-violent means as long as there is no substantial climbdown from the government.

A widely circulated social media agenda for protesters lists peaceful actions across the week ranging from blocking metro stations on Wednesday, to forming a human chain and blockading transport routes into the airport on Saturday.

burs-apj/kma

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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many of the fake accounts were accessed using "virtual private networks" that give a deceptive picture of the user's location, 

Nations are using an array of cyberwarfare tactics to push their agendas while attempting to undermine rival nation's systems and sow discord. I'd be curious to learn what Japanese security agencies are doing to combat those using social media in attempts to harm Japan, and if the Japanese agencies can tell which users are trolling from outside Japan.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

 I'd be curious to learn what Japanese security agencies are doing to combat those using social media in attempts to harm Japan, and if the Japanese agencies can tell which users are trolling from outside Japan.

I'd be pretty interested, too.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Puzzles me how easily and readily Twitter and Facebook etc are able to identify and take down sites and users whose of views they disapprove but are apparently nowhere near as capable of taking down bullying/exploitative/disgusting ones where they don't have a dog in the fight apart from making money from them.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Now can they go after the fake "Trump supporter" accounts that "deliberately and specifically attempt to sow political discord in the US, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions" of anyone who doesn't think the way they do?

0 ( +6 / -6 )

It makes sense. China knows that it cannot be outwardly violent toward the protestors (although they'd like to), which would risk hurting their economic situation when foreign countries/potential trading partners decide that they'd rather not be associated with such things. So instead, they choose misdirection. They send their own people in, disguised as protestors, to do horrible things and tarnish the reputation of the protestors. They use the massive human resources they employ to spread propaganda across the internet. This is the modern way of things.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

“Now can they go after the fake "Trump supporter" accounts “

And the fake “resister” accounts?

3 ( +7 / -4 )

And the fake “resister” accounts?

The whole world is trying to resist the man, tbf. You just can't trust the big 3 at the moment.

And us proles are stuck in the middle, at the mercy of their whims and propaganda.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Facebook said it had acted on a tip off from Twitter

There's no doubt countries like China and Russia do this sort of thing, but I'm actually more disturbed by seeing how easily the tech giants are willing to collude and put their thumb on the scale to shape public opinion. Twitter's language of 'sowing discord' sounds just as cryptic and dystopian as Chinese officials who talk about 'harmony' and banning social media accounts spreading 'harmful rumors'. Also, who gave Twitter the authority to decide whether the political positions of the protest movement are being misrepresented? It's a leaderless movement with no official positions or manifesto.

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

Big tech obviously has a huge financial interest in seeing the Chinese government toppled at this point. They've been shut out of the biggest e-commerce and social media market in the world. How soon before the tech giants have as much money and influence as the oil companies had in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion? It's something to think about.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Hong Kong has brought a lot of money to China, but Xi, as dictator, is not personally affected by that, so he may not take Hong Kong's importance to the Chinese economy to heart. That is the thing about dictators, there is nothing to make them care about the welfare of those they rule, other than the threat of revolt.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I still trust tech more than government.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Boeing, Fisher price and now Twitter and Facebook

The rot in the west is deep.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Uh,... Twitter & Facebook comments coming from a Chinese Mainland address... would be a good start in identifying those accounts.

China really blocks the internet off, I have domestically there a basic 10 MB connection, which is fine for local Chinese stuff, but as soon as you try to hit non-Chinese sites, you're down to 9600 bps at best.... the "Great China Firewall" is either going to throttle you to a cup of tea, or block you.

One wonders, whether the way forward is to replicate the original FIDO net over IP-Net in order to circumvent these issues as traffic would simply be encrypted MODEM data over IP.... current Firewalls do not filter this.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Crazy Joe:

You mean the people that don't think the way YOU do.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Good.

Now let them do the same to the Angry Yam and his Russian allies...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Twitter & facebook will fail.

How many accounts are they going to ban ?

Their business run on those accounts in first place.

USAID is pouring huge sums in HK demonstrations

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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