According to a new report, a network of Twitter accounts linked to the Chinese government is harassing female journalists of Chinese heritage working for western news outlets through an online harassment campaign. report.
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Why it matters This campaign is part of China’s attempts to silence criticism of Beijing abroad by coercion, intimidation and retaliation.
- The Chinese government has taken to Twitter and YouTube in recent years. Facebook, and other western social networking platforms that are prohibited in China to promote state propaganda or engage in increasingly sophisticatedDisinformation and harassment campaign.
What’s happening: In recent weeks, the Twitter accounts of the New Yorker’s Jiayang Fan, the Economist’s Alice Su, the New York Times’ Muyi Xiao, and other journalists and China analysts — mostly female, mostly of ethnic Chinese heritage and largely based outside of China — have been flooded with thousands of tweets criticizing them as traitorsAnd accusing them of “smearing” China.
- The harassment campaign is tied to the Chinese state-linked”Spamouflage“Network, according to analysis done by researchers Danielle Cave & Albert Zhang at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Axios reviewed it.
- ASPI is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Australia. They have published many high-profile reports about China. attractedThe ireof the Chinese government.
- Spamouflage, a network commonly known as Spamouflage, was first established. identifiedIn 2019. Twitter has been around since 2019. previously attributedSpamouflage network is used to link actors with Chinese state agencies. Spamouflage-linked activity has been reported on a variety of topics, including the Hong Kong pro democracy protests, Xinjiang and Taiwan, and COVID. Twitter has previously sharedRelevant data on Chinese state-backed campaigns with ASPI
- A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to Axios the existence of the ASPI report identifying the activity. “Spamouflage”network, and that Twitter has suspended more than 400 connected accounts for violating platform policies. The spokesperson stated that the investigation was ongoing.
What they are saying: “To accuse the Chinese government of using Twitter accounts to target dissidents is totally groundless and malicious speculation,” Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told Axios in a statement.
- “The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) you mentioned has been making a living by churning out all kinds of disinformation about China. It has long been notorious in China and a laughing stock in the international community.”
Details:Many posts include similar-sounding and generic criticism, just like the journalists. “reverse racist”Or they are a “dog”For “betraying China.”Other posts, especially those that targeted Fan with the hashtag #TraitorJiayangFan were tailored to specific details in the lives of the journalists, which led to what ASPI called “The ASPI Experience.” “psychological abuse.”
- Many of the accounts have characteristics that are typical of a bot-network. Many accounts have generic names that include handles that often include a string of numbers. Researchers found that most accounts use photos of real women from other websites or AI-generated images of children and women.
- Hundreds upon hundreds of newly created accounts were devoted to tweeting attacks on one or more of these women. However, others had previously posted other Chinese propaganda, including denials of human right abuses in Xinjiang, and conspiracy theories about COVID.
- ASPI believes that the network is state-backed because of other indicators.postingContent that denies human rights violations in Xinjiang, amplifying hashtagsASPI has determined that there are other forms of Spamouflage. Profile images have been compared to accounts linked to Spamouflage and other patterns of life.
These numbers: Researchers identified at most 367 fake accounts that used #TraitorJiayangFan between April 19 and April 19.
- More than 100 accounts within the network sent more than 500 tweets to Xiao, a New York Times visual journalist, in a 24-hour period from May 30 to May 31. Xiao removed some of these accounts after she reported them. wroteIn a May 31 tweet.
- According to ASPI analysis, most of the tweets were sent during business hours in China’s local time zone. However, activity dropped off during recent holidays.
“This activity is escalating,”According to ASPI researchers, Recent evidence points to “an actor that is broadening its scope and targets, constantly adding to its information toolkit and evolving far more quickly than just a year, or two, ago.”
- A spokesperson for Twitter told Axios that they have made progress in keeping journalists safe. “recognize the work we still need to do in order to minimize the disproportionate levels of abuse that women and underrepresented communities face online.”
- The U.S. State Department declined comment.
The big pictureThe Chinese government has been engaging in more aggressive forms of transnational repression in recent years. This means that it is extending its authoritarian government power outside of its borders.
- ASPI reports on the Twitter campaign against journalists. “digital transnational repression.”
- Chinese authorities have successfully subdued governments ThailandFrom Tajikistan to Egypt forcibly repatriateUyghurs fleeing oppression and persecution in Xinjiang.
- Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted several Chinese security officers for plotting to harass U.S.-based dissidents.
Disclosure: Bethany is a member of ASPI’s Xinjiang Data Project advisory board, an unpaid group of experts that provide feedback to ASPI on the project. This article does not refer to that project. Bethany did not contribute to its conception or drafting.