Twitter - Chinese Anti-Covid Measures Protests

Searching Twitter for the heated China-wide Covid-19-related protests currently returns a barrage of spam, phishing, gambling, and porn. This confusing event began late last week, and has led into Monday with searches for most major Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, and others being completely flooded.

Is the Chinese government behind this?

Researchers have found that these messages are being posted by accounts created months ago. These accounts have basically no followers and follow almost no-one, leading most to believe these are bot accounts.

Others yet speculate that the posts are orchestrated by the Chinese government to disguise the fact that at least 10 people within the Xinjiang province were killed due to Covid-19 restrictions. With most of the country unhappy about how China’s zero-tolerance Covid-19 policies have affected them, they took to the streets to protest in many Chinese cities.

Charlie Smith, co-founder of China-based digital activist group GreatFire.org had the following to say on the matter:

It is happening not just around Xinjiang but around any sensitive Chinese issue at the moment. Search any city that has seen a rise in Covid cases, or had on-the-street protests on the weekend, and you will see the same thing.Charlie Smith

Although Twitter may be banned in the country, China has an estimated 3-10 million Twitter users. This has led some to believe the attack is the work of citizens, unhappy about the state of internet freedoms in the country. However, since pornography and similar content is censored in China, many further doubt this could be the work of private individuals.

Government Suspicions and the Involvement of Twitter

It’s no secret Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been rocky. With the tech mogul facing reality checks on an almost daily basis, many thought this would be Musk’s chance to show how the new Twitter deals with bots.

With Musk cutting back on employees in critical customer facing positions such as PR teams, and a distinct uptick of hate speech on the platform, some think this campaign may be Elon’s fault. This is further confounded as Musk is tied to China through his EV company- Tesla. However, Musk distinctly denies that the Chinese government has any leverage over Twitter, stating:

As far as I’m aware, China does not attempt to interfere with the free speech of the US press.Elon Musk

The idea that Twitter could be used for foreign exploitation is nothing new. With US lawmakers watching the platform carefully, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, Alex Stamos, stated that:

We are rapidly approaching the point where any political discussion will be dominated by organized influence teams and more lighthearted topics by spam.Alex Stamos

This worry is further intensified, as Twitter’s former head of security stated Twitter to be extraordinarily vulnerable to foreign exploitation. In this whistleblower disclosure, he stated the FBI had issued Twitter a warning that there’s at least one Chinese government agent working at the company.

All of this has led to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to request Musk reviews the social network’s security. Grassley asked to pay special attention to insider threats, and for Musk to brief congressional staff on the results.

With tensions rising and the protests in China escalating, there’s no knowing if these information-bombing attempts will be successful. However, they do paint a concerning picture of information availability in the future.

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