China’s state media agencies have been buying large quantities of ads and promoted posts on Facebook and Twitter for years. But their budget seems to have spiked in recent weeks as Beijing has sought to tell its version of the events in Hong Kong. This morning Gizmodo published this story: China’s biggest propaganda agency buys ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear protesters in Hong Kong.
And it appears Beijing has not just been buying ads. A few short hours after Gizmodo published that story, Facebook and Twitter made announcements.
Twitter said a “significant” state-backed disinformation campaign had been using 936 accounts that were “specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” The accounts were all suspended. You can download an archive of the suspicious tweets and accounts on Twitter’s announcement page.
By SupChina’s count, 326 of the accounts had over 10,000 followers, meaning that this disinformation campaign likely reached many millions of people. Twitter also said that a “spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts” has been proactively suspended.
Twitter also banned state-owned media companies from buying ads, with a separate announcement.
Facebook made a similar announcement: “Seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong” were taken down, says the company.
Meanwhile, “a sea of Hong Kong protesters marched through the dense city center in the pouring rain on Sunday, defying a police ban, in a vivid display of the movement’s continuing strength after more than two months of demonstrations, days of ugly violence and increasingly vehement warnings from the Chinese government,” reports the New York Times. Hong Kong Free Press has photos.
More than 1.7 million people joined the march according to the organizers, making it the second biggest rally since the protests began — on June 16, around two million people protested.
The demonstration began with a police-approved rally in Victoria Park where many of the protests have started. Then they walked to Central district, in defiance of a police order against it.
There was no violence.Per the Wall Street Journal: “The peaceful procession was in contrast to recent weekends which have seen bloody battles between protesters and police spread across the city and shuttered the city’s airport last Monday.” The massive turnout shows “that the movement is far from fizzling out, increasing pressure on local officials and their masters in Beijing who have struggled to contain the social unrest,” says the WSJ.
On Saturday there was a counter protest in support of the police. The organizers and Chinese state media said an estimated 476,000 people attended the rally, but the Hong Kong Free Press reports that police “put the turnout at 108,000.”
China’s propaganda organs continue to churn out disinformation, some of it with the help of professional China-praisers like Martin Jacques, some claiming that all real Hong Kongers want is peace and to love China, and some supporting counter-protests by Chinese students in other countries. All of the state messaging suggests that young people in Hong Kong have no agency; see for example: The riots that have kidnapped the youth are the greatest evil. (All links in Chinese; see also What is China’s propaganda machine saying about the Hong Kong protests, by scholar Fāng Kěchéng 方可成 in the Washington Post.)
For a taste in English from the China Daily and Global Times (whose ads are now banned from Twitter):
- Who is behind Hong Kong protests?
- Hong Kong society cannot remain silent as the city sinks;
- Law must hold all wrongdoers in HK to account;
- HK youth deceived by West.
And then there’s this rap video from state broadcaster CGTN, sent out with this tweet: “Hey Hong Kong protesters! Chinese mainland rappers have something to say”
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) August 17, 2019