Misinformation and propaganda have always been the tools used by Beijing to spread its communist propaganda to the masses. The Chinese government has been using these two tools to discredit and deride Hong Kong protests on social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. However, social media companies have reportedly wised up and are removing accounts identified to be pro-China propaganda.
Social media propaganda
Twitter discovered that 936 accounts originating from China were distributing content aimed at crafting a negative image of the Hong Kong protests. “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. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation,” the company said in a post.
Most of the accounts were using VPNs since Twitter is banned in China. The 936 accounts are believed to have been the most active among the almost 20,000 accounts identified as being “spammy.” Most of the 20,000 accounts were proactively suspended before they could become seriously active. Twitter has since archived the 936 accounts, which is the largest of its kind in the entire industry. Later, the company announced that it will not publish ads from state-controlled news media.
After receiving a tip from Twitter, Facebook also removed several accounts and pages they found to be involved in the misinformation campaign against Hong Kong protestors. Some of the posts called protestors “cockroaches” who “refused to show their faces.” Most of these accounts were created in 2018.
“We disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong… This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Shane Huntley, of Google’s security threat analysis group, said in a statement (The Guardian).
On the mainland, Beijing completely controls the narrative about Hong Kong protests. Unsurprisingly, the protestors are presented as a threat to China and are often accused of colluding with foreign governments, especially the United States. A popular theory doing the rounds among the Chinese public is that CIA funds the Hong Kong protestors.
“The [protest] movement is so complicated, unpredictable, and unprecedented, with a very diverse group of participants… But what we see within the Great Firewall of China is actually simplified and distorted… That is because nationalistic content is politically safe and highly popular among the Chinese public and Internet users,” Fang Kecheng, a communications professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said to NPR.
When protestors thrashed two men from the mainland suspected of being undercover security personnel, Beijing used it to portray the demonstrators as violent and thuggish. In fact, a videotape of the incident was trending on the mainland the very next day, with most Chinese criticizing the protestors. To rake up support for the Hong Kong police force, Beijing circulated a video in which a female protestor who lost an eye in a police crackdown is shown accepting money from other protestors, signaling that she had staged the entire thing. However, the woman shown accepting the money is not the one who had lost the eye.