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Twitter purges thousands of state-backed disinformation networks

Twitter has removed more than 30,000 accounts which were being used to spread state-backed propaganda from China, Russia, and Turkey, in addition to 150,000 “amplifier” accounts used to boost them.

The social media company said that 32,342 of the deleted accounts were linked to China, Russia, and Turkey and pushed content favourable to these countries’ governments.

Of these, 23,750 were linked to China and were engaging in “manipulative and coordinated activities”. These centred around spreading “geopolitical narratives favourable to the [CCP] while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong” in addition to CCP-friendly messages about the coronavirus pandemic and about Taiwan.

The pro-CCP network appeared to ramp up activity earlier this year as the coronavirus outbreak spread far beyond China, praising the CCP’s handling of the health emergency.

Twitter also identified 150,000 “amplifier accounts” as part of this disinformation network, which had been created for the purpose of interacting with the 23,750 China-backed accounts. This activity creates the false impression of user interest in the posts, boosting their prominence on the platform.

The second-largest network of accounts (more than 7,000) were linked to Turkey and promoted positive political narratives about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Twitter said that the network appeared to be associated with the young wing of Erdogan’s party, which had compromised some accounts belonging to Erdogan’s critics. The Turkish network was also used for commercial activities, such as cryptocurrency-related spam.

A third network of more than 1,000 accounts promoted Russian President Vladimir Putin and his party while attacking his critics. This network was removed for “amplifying content in an inauthentic, coordinated manner for political ends”.

The core network of accounts were added to its information operations archive (which contain data relating to state-backed disinformation networks), while the large collection of amplifier accounts were not.

“Ultimately, our goal is to serve the public conversation, remove bad faith actors and to advance public understanding of these critical topics,” Twitter said in a blog post. The company said that it hoped to host a remote conference later this year to discuss collaboration between industry, academics and government to combat these disinformation networks.

Meanwhile, Apple has removed a podcast app (Pocket Casts) from the App Store in China, after China’s Cyberspace Administration demanded that Apple remove the podcast due to it being possible to use the app to access content forbidden in the country. Pocket Casts is the second podcast app to removed from China’s App Store in the past month.

This week, video-conferencing company Zoom suspended the accounts of human rights activists who held online events commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre or discussing Hong Kong issues, following demands from the CCP.

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