Twitter and Facebook ban Beijing bots

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Today’s words of the day are Twitter (推特 tuītè) and Facebook (liǎnshū 脸书), although when Facebook was blocked in 2009, wags on the Chinese internet began calling it 非死不可 fēisǐ bùkě, which means roughly: “You know it’s going to die!” 

One announcement: Our NEXT China conference is happening in New York City on November 21. Early bird tickets are on sale, and the roster of speakers is growing by the day. To learn more, visit events.supchina.com

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief 


1. Twitter and Facebook ban accounts pushing disinformation from Beijing  

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

2. A weekend of peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong 

Yesterday, “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 (porous paywall). Hong Kong Free Press has photos

Other news from Hong Kong:

Another airline succumbs to pressure from Beijing: “Finnair warned its flight attendants in Hong Kong against bringing it into disrepute and, citing a customer backlash, including cancellations, warned crews they would be removed from future flights for mentioning the company’s name in protest-related social media posts,” reports the South China Morning Post

“The Chinese government aims to transform Shenzhen into a global business center, in an apparent gambit to position the southern city as a model of stable prosperity compared with neighboring Hong Kong,” says Nikkei Asian Review (porous paywall). The State Council Information Office says “China will build the southern city of Shenzhen into a pilot demonstration area of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

In his incoherent way, Donald Trump warned Beijing that trade talks might be affected by a violent crackdown in Hong Kong: “I think it would be very hard to deal if they do violence. If it’s another Tiananmen Square … I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there’s violence,” he said, per the South China Morning Post. As the New York Times notes (porous paywall), the troop buildup in Shenzhen remains a “stark warning” for Hong Kong.  

2. Huawei gets another temporary reprieve 

“Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday that his department will grant another temporary reprieve to Huawei Technologies, delaying the implementation of a penalty on the Chinese tech giant for another 90 days,” reports the Washington Post

Ross made the announcement during an appearance on Fox Business Network.

“It is another 90 days for the U.S. telecom companies,” Ross said. “Some of the rural companies are dependent on Huawei. So we’re giving them a little more time to wean themselves off. But no specific licenses are being granted for anything.”

On Sunday, President Trump suggested that his administration was not likely to grant another reprieve to Huawei, citing national security concerns.

One other noteworthy piece of news from various fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 410: 

“FedEx Corporation, under pressure in China over its diversions of packages from Huawei Technologies, is seeking to defuse a delivery mishap involving a firearm, reports the South China Morning Post

In the latest case, a United States client sent a handgun via FedEx to a sports good company in the Fujian provincial capital of Fuzhou, Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday. The firearm never made it to the sporting goods company and was seized by local police, who are investigating the incident.

3. Beijing calls up sycophants for Xinjiang white paper quotes

On Friday we noted that Beijing had published a second white paper on Xinjiang, a defense of the internment camps system. Now Xinhua News Agency claims there has been global praise for China’s white paper on Xinjiang. The article quotes a variety of experts from Sri Lanka, Morocco, Russia, Thailand, and Rwanda who say the second white paper “is a significant step in the fight against terrorism and religious extremism.”

Less impressed by the white paper are the three Uyghur Chinese citizens in this New York Times video op-ed: China: Free our parents from concentration camps

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

China has been investing in Europe in conjunction with its broadly defined Belt and Road Initiative. And it has focused special attention on Central European countries.

“They’re looking for a way to project their political influence,” said Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek.

For many European Union decisions, each country has an equal vote, meaning China needs to win over only a few leaders to nudge E.U. policy in a favorable direction.

Chinese documentary director Zhu Yu, who previously was ready to defy Beijing’s boycott of Taiwan’s Golden Horse awards, has withdrawn from the film festival.

The Beijing Film Academy graduate announced on an unverified Weibo account on Saturday that she and her film, Young People Question Taoism, would no longer be in the running for the high-profile awards… 

“I’m an ordinary citizen, not a celebrity … so nobody read about the news of me withdrawing from the competition,” she said. “In fact, there were many rumours and much cyberbullying – my safety has been threatened, so I’m making this clarification now.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • Fake Chinese police cars in Australia
    Hoax Chinese police cars on the streets of Australia spark alarm / SCMP
    “Cars that resemble Chinese police vehicles have been spotted on the streets of Australia, sparking confusion and alarm amid growing tensions between Chinese communities in the country over the future of Hong Kong.”


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