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REPORT: China driving its propaganda on Twitter with an army of fake accounts

(TibetanReview.net, May13’21) – China is striving to dominate the online information war on it by creating an army of fake accounts on Twitter, reported the AP May 12, citing a seven-month investigation by it and the Oxford University’s Internet Institute. The accounts are designed to covertly amplify propaganda that can reach hundreds of millions of people, usually without disclosing the fact that the content is government-sponsored, the research has found.

This army of fake accounts has retweeted Chinese diplomats and state media tens of thousands of times, often providing a bulk of the amplification, the report found. The move is aimed at winning the information war both at home and abroad in China’s move to translate its growing economic power into political influence.

While Twitter is banned in China, the country’s so-called Wolf Warrior diplomats have taken to it with gusto, touting Chinese achievements, chiding other countries, posting offensive cartoons, and delivering bombastic pro-China pronouncements.

AP and the Oxford Internet Institute have identified 26,879 accounts that managed to retweet Chinese diplomats or state media nearly 200,000 times before getting suspended.

The report noted that in one highly publicised episode, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson tweeted a fake image of an Australian soldier committing war crimes – prompting an immediate demand for an apology by prime minister Scott Morrison.

The research was stated to have found that efforts by big tech to crack down on bogus Chinese ‘imposter accounts’ have been futile.

The accounts are said to impersonate users from outside China, including citizens from the likes of the UK and Australia, as a way of amplifying the Chinese government’s narrative and talking points on Twitter.

The report said this fiction of popularity could boost the status of China’s messengers, creating a mirage of broad support.

It can also distort platform algorithms, which are designed to boost the distribution of popular posts, potentially exposing more genuine users to Chinese government propaganda.

The report said that while individual fake accounts might not seem impactful on their own, over time and at scale, such networks could distort the information environment, deepening the reach and authenticity of China’s messaging.

“You have a seismic, slow but large continental shift in narratives,” Timothy Graham, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology who studies social networks, has said.

“Steer it just a little bit over time, it can have massive impact.”

Twitter is not the only target for dispersing the Chinese government propaganda. An earlier investigation found a pro-China network of fake and impostor accounts had found a global audience on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the report said.

The accounts – dubbed “Spamouflage” – would push certain agendas such as attacking the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement or questioning the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines produced in the US.

While Twitter has closed down many of these fake Chinese accounts, more continue to sprout up in their place, the report said.

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