Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

Protesters walk along a street during a rally in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019, in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. (AFP / Manan Vatsyayana)
Updated 20 August 2019

Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

  • Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong
  • An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong

WASHINGTON: Twitter said Monday it has suspended more than 200,000 accounts that it believes were part of a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement in Hong Kong.
The company also said it will ban ads from state-backed media companies, expanding a prohibition it first applied in 2017 to two Russian entities.
Both measures are part of what a senior company official portrayed in an interview as a broader effort to curb malicious political activity on a popular platform that has been criticized for enabling election interference around the world and for accepting money for ads that amount to propaganda by state-run media organizations.
The accounts were suspended for violating the social networking platform’s terms of service and “because we think this is not how people can come to Twitter to get informed,” the official said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the Chinese activity was reported to the FBI, which investigated Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social media.
After being notified by Twitter and conducting its own investigation, Facebook said Monday that it has also removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts, including some portraying protesters as cockroaches and terrorists.
Facebook, which is more widely used in Hong Kong, does not release the data on such state-backed influence operations.
Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets since early June calling for full democracy and an inquiry into what they say is police violence against protesters.
Though Twitter is banned in China, it is available in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region.
The Chinese language account, @HKpoliticalnew, and the English account, @ctcc507, pushed tweets depicting protesters as violent criminals in a campaign aimed at influencing public opinion around the world. One of those accounts was tied to a suspended Facebook account that went by the same moniker: HKpoliticalnew.
An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong by undermining the protest movement’s legitimacy and political positions.
About 200,000 more automated Twitter accounts amplified the messages, engaging with the core accounts in the network. Few tweeted more than once, the official said, mostly because Twitter quickly caught many of them.
The Twitter official said the investigation remains ongoing and there could be further disclosures.
The Twitter campaign reflects the fact that the Chinese government has studied the role of social media in mass movements and fears the Hong Kong protests could spark wider unrest, said James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is standard Chinese practice domestically, and we know that after 2016 they studied what the Russians did in the US carefully,” Lewis said. “So it sounds like this is the first time they’re deploying their new toy.”
Twitter has sought to more aggressively monitor its network for malicious political activity since the 2016 presidential election and to be more transparent about its investigations, publicly releasing such data about state-backed influence operations since October so others can evaluate it, the official said.
“We’re not only telling the public this happened, we’re also putting the data out there so people can study it for themselves,” the official said.
As for state-backed media organizations, they are still allowed to use Twitter, but are no longer allowed to pay for ads, which show up regardless of whether you have elected to follow the group’s tweet.
Twitter declined to provide a list of what it considers state-backed media organizations, but a representative said it may consider doing so in the future. In 2017, Twitter specifically announced it would ban Russia-based RT and Sputnik from advertising on its platform.


Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

Updated 16 September 2019

Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

  • Digital news service to be available in English and Japanese
  • Launch to coincide with Emperor enthronement ceremony

TOKYO: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English language daily, is to launch a Japanese-language online edition as part of its ongoing global expansion.

The international edition will be the second under the Arab News brand, following the highly successful launch of the Pakistani edition. 

As a symbol of the cordial business, trading and cultural relations between the Kingdom and Japan, arabnews.jp will commence coverage to coincide with the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito next month. It will be a 24-hour rolling news website comprising original material generated in Tokyo and translations of Arab News’ award-winning English content.

Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News editor-in-chief, announced the project at the G1 Global conference in Tokyo on Monday, September 16.

The Japanese edition will be the second under the Arab News brand.

He said: ““As part of our more digital, more global direction; we are delighted to announce the launch of Arab News Japan. The news site will be available in both English and Japanese, with a content mix that blends original reporting from both the Middle East and Japan as well as a translated feed of some of our most important news and views. 

“We are also honored to coincide our launch with our coverage of the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. We hope that our new service arabnews.jp helps bring a better mutual understanding of both our rich cultures and become a trusted communication channel where our friends in japan can rely on us for credible information and insightful analysis,” he added.

Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners. A major part of Japan’s energy imports come from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom imports manufactured goods and electronic equipment from Japan, and is a significant destination for Japanese financial investment.

Saudi Arabia officials are working with their Japanese counterparts on the formal handover for the G20 leaders’ summit, which will take place in the Kingdom next year, following the highly success event held in Osaka, Japan, in June.

At that event, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that Japan was a country dear to the hearts of all Saudis. “We will work together to prepare for the G20 summit 2020 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Crown Prince said.

The prime minister praised the Kingdom’s progress in accordance with the Vision 2030 strategy and pointed to the keenness of the government of Japan and its readiness through public and private sectors to make further efforts and cooperation with the Kingdom.

Arab News is part of the regional publishing group Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). It has been the English newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia and the region for over 40 years.