The social media platform wrote in a blog post that it recently discovered and removed 23,750 state-linked accounts known as the “core network.” It also took down roughly 150,000 accounts dedicated to boosting the core group’s messages with retweets and likes.
The profiles were removed for violating the platform’s manipulation policies, Twitter said.
“In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities,” the company wrote. “They were Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.”
While previous misinformation campaigns targeted last year’s Hong Kong protests, the new batch of now-deleted accounts homed in on praising China’s response to the pandemic.
According to a Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) analysis, the bot-accounts compared China’s response with that of the U.S. government and Taiwan, or used virus’ presence as a means to attack Hong Kong activists.
“The English-language content included pointed reiterations of the claim that China – not Taiwan – had a superior response to containing coronavirus,” SIO noted.
The study, in partnership with Twitter, found that a majority of accounts had no bios and less than 10 followers — but they tweeted almost 350,000 times prior to being shut down.
Although Twitter is officially blocked in China, more and more Chinese officials and state-run media have recently joined the platform to dispute U.S.-led accusations over the country’s handlings of COVID-19, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
Here’s what you need to know:
Twitter has Dealt With Chinese Propaganda Before
Twitter announced it would ban state-backed media from promoting tweets after a variety of state-backed publications, including the China Daily, planted ads on its service.
The ads alluded that the Hong Kong protesters were sponsored by Western interests and becoming violent.
“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 in a statement obtained by the New York Times.
“Based on our intensive investigations,” the company said. “We have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”
Trump’s Clashes with China Over COVID-19 Most Likely Fueled the Recent Batch
Trump has frequently sparred with Beijing over the handling of the pandemic, blaming the country for what he calls the “Chinese Virus.”
The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2020
His remarks inspired Chinese officials to fight back on Twitter, many of which pinned the U.S. as the originator.
The recent propaganda accounts ramped up activity in late January of this year, according to the Stanford researchers, and spiked in late March.
The narrative in February frequently accused Hong Kong protesters and pro-democracy activists of overhyping the virus’ capabilities while using rumors as “panic bullets.”
But the narrative took a sharp turn in March as COVID-19 became a global threat.
The accounts then praised China as a “responsible big country” and called on the United States to “put aside political bias” so it could learn from China’s response, the SIO analysis continues.
Twitter Shut Down Russian and Turkish Accounts Too
On top of closing the Chinese bot accounts, Twitter closed thousands tied to Russian and Turkish state-linked misinformation efforts, the Thursday blog post states.
The company announced that more than 1,000 Russian accounts relating to state-backed political propaganda were removed, while over 7,300 Turkish accounts spreading information favorable to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were also taken down.
The San Francisco-based platform is planning on hosting a conference later this summer to “bring experts, industry and government together to discuss opportunities for further collaboration” around silencing the deceptive state-backed social media campaigns, it said.