Since the 2016 US presidential election, social media users have grown used to hearing of inauthentic accounts—which are most often attributed to Russia. When Twitter last month said it was suspending more than 900 accounts linked to China, it marked the first time the platform had publicly identified and removed a Chinese disinformation campaign. Facebook took similar action against a handful of pages the same day. The accounts and tweets made public by Twitter offer researchers a chance to study China’s tactics.
After an estimated 2 million people marched in Hong Kong to protest against the now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland, a Twitter account with a red Chinese flag as its profile picture tweeted in Chinese that protesters dressed in black and linked to foreign agents had attacked police headquarters, “instigating others to march and protest as a means to disrupt Hong Kong.” In other instances, if users scrolled down, they would have seen that two of the accounts with the most retweets in recent days about Hong Kong topics were earlier tweeting links offering nude photos. Others were previously tweeting in Portuguese or Indonesian.