A recent report from the Associated Press claims that an army of fake bot accounts have been boosting China’s messaging on Twitter, and the platform was slow to take action to stop the propaganda campaign.
AP News reports that China’s Communist Party has been using bot accounts to boost its messaging across Western social media. AP reports that Liu Xiaoming, China’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom, has generated a large online following on Twitter and other social media websites.
Liu has managed to gain a following of more than 119,000 users as he has become the role model for China’s new sharp-edged “wolf warrior” diplomacy, a term borrowed from the title of a popular Chinese action movie.
Liu, who now works as China’s Special Representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs, tweeted in February: “As I see it, there are so-called ‘wolf warriors’ because there are ‘wolfs’ in the world and you need warriors to fight them.”
His posts, which largely consist of harsh retorts to Western anti-Chinese bias, have been retweeted more than 43,000 times from June through February alone. But according to AP News, much of the support that Liu and his colleagues receive may be manufactured.
A seven-month investigation by the Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute, a department at Oxford University, found that China’s rise on Twitter has been powered by an army of fake accounts that have retweeted Chinese diplomats and state media tens of thousands of times, covertly amplifying propaganda that can reach hundreds of millions of people — often without disclosing the fact that the content is government-sponsored.
This type of analysis is possible because Twitter makes more of its data available to researchers than other social media platforms routinely do.
More than half the retweets Liu got from June through January came from accounts that Twitter has suspended for violating the platform’s rules, which prohibit manipulation. Overall, more than one in ten of the retweets 189 Chinese diplomats got in that time frame came from accounts that Twitter had suspended by Mar. 1.
AP notes that Twitter’s suspension did not put an end to the pro-China amplification network, with an additional cluster of fake accounts quickly popping up. Many attempted to impersonate UK citizens and continued to push Chinse government content, generating 16,000 retweets and replies before Twitter banned the accounts last month and earlier this month in response to the AP and Oxford Internet Institute’s investigation.
The report holds Twitter accountable for the activity of China’s fake social media army. AP notes that Twitter only took down accounts after “weeks of months of activity,” and that fake accounts were sometimes responsible for more than half of the tweets and engagements Chinese officials received on the platform.
Read more about the Chinese coordinated propaganda campaign at AP News here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address firstname.lastname@example.org