The Chinese government says that it has been the victim of disinformation campaigns on Twitter. It called on the social media platform to delete accounts that have been attacking the country over the coronavirus.
The move came a day after Twitter Thursday said that it had removed more than 170,000 accounts (23,750 accounts that were part of a “highly engaged core network,” as well as 150,000 “amplifier” accounts) tied to a Chinese influence operation that spread misinformation favorable to the Beijing regime about Hong Kong and coronavirus. The network was posting mostly in Chinese to “spread geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP),” while also pushing misinformation about politics in Hong Kong, Twitter said.
China has previously had some success in pushing back against Western tech and media firms, as it seeks to put forward its own world view. In recent days, it emerged that remote conferencing tool Zoom complied with a Chinese government request to take action against people using the app to discuss the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“It holds no water at all to equate China’s response to the epidemic with disinformation. If Twitter wants to make a difference, it should shut down those accounts that have been organized and coordinated to attack and discredit China,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Friday. She said that China was the “biggest victim of false information.”
There has been international dispute about what Chinese authorities communicated about COVID-19 to the World Health Organization and to other national governments, and when. Doctors in the city of Wuhan who acted as whistle-blowers were accused of trouble-making and initially silenced. Two subsequently died of the disease.
“Many tweets spread rumors that claim the coronavirus was a bio-weapon made by China, and (U.S.) Republicans and some right-wing networks were reportedly the ones responsible for starting these rumors and creating robot accounts that helped to propagate them,” said Hua. “If Twitter deems messages commending China’s coronavirus response as disinformation and decides to remove them, what about those that are slanderous, malicious, and factually proven to be disinformation? Not making a move against these networks would be a plain example of double standards.”
Hua made no comment on the allegations that China had used Twitter to promote the CCP message about Hong Kong. China is in the process of drafting a national security law that is to be injected into Hong Kong’s mini constitution known as the Basic Law. The security law will be enacted without debate in the territory’s legislature and despite the move being massively unpopular with Hong Kong citizens.
The fight over facts and the interpretation of them has become more intense in recent months, as the U.S. and China have moved towards a Cold War. Conventional media and social media platforms now cannot escape being fired at by both sides.
In late May, Twitter begun fact-checking the postings by U.S. President Donald Trump and labelled two of them as “misleading.” That led Trump to accuse Twitter of election meddling.
The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong has frequently accused public broadcaster RTHK of pursuing an anti-government agenda. But it recently ordered it to produce a 20-episode series lauding the merits of the still unpublished law.
“While the Chinese Communist Party won’t allow the Chinese people to use Twitter, our analysis shows it is happy to use it to sow propaganda and disinformation internationally,” said Fergus Hanson, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, quoted by Associated Press.