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China is running Hong Kong disinformation campaigns through Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter removed accounts from their platforms that they say were focused on discrediting the current protest situation in Hong Kong. 

In separate announcements on Monday, August 19, the two social networks announced that they found accounts, pages, and groups that had coordinated manipulative content regarding the Hong Kong protests. 

“They frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, wrote in the blog post. 

The social media giant said that a tip from Twitter led to their investigation of the matter, which found and removed five Facebook accounts, seven pages, and three groups. These accounts would pose as news organizations or drive users to away from the platform to news sites. 

Twitter said that it had suspended 936 accounts that originated from the People’s Republic of China for violating Twitter’s platform manipulation policies. The policies include spam, coordinated and attributed activity, fake accounts, and ban evasion. 

“Overall, 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 its press release. 

Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, but Twitter said that these accounts were able to access the platforms using VPNs — ironic, because virtual private networks are most often used by citizens in countries like China to avoid government censorship. In this case, VPNs were used by the government to sow misinformation. 

The social media platforms both pointed to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” as an initial flag for these accounts, a term Facebook widely uses when describing “when groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing.” 

In this case, these accounts were used to undermine the current events in Hong Kong. For weeks, protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong to rally against a bill that would allow criminal extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Protests have now grown to encompass broader democratic reform.

Digital Trends reached out to both Facebook and Twitter to comment on the matter further, but we have not yet received a response. 

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