Facebook and Twitter said Monday that they had deleted a network of fake accounts used by China to sow political discord over Hong Kong’s pro-democracy, anti-police brutality protests.
The accounts also were used to share pro-Beijing rhetoric in response to the Hong Kong-initiated boycott of The Walt Disney Co.’s upcoming film Mulan, some of the example tweets shared by Twitter reveal.
The Mulan boycott was initiated late last week after the film’s star, Crystal Liu Yifei, posted a message of support on Chinese social media for the Hong Kong police force. The post ignited a firestorm both within Hong Kong and among pro-democracy sympathizers overseas, given the many accusations by international human rights groups that the police have been using excess force in their confrontations with protesters and the public.
Twitter said Monday that it pulled down 936 troll accounts, many of which pushed conspiracy theories about the Hong Kong protestors and their motivations.
“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,” the company said in a statement. Twitter added that it has “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”
Many of the deleted accounts claimed to be users based in the United States, in places ranging from New York City and to small towns like Berrien Springs, Michigan. Some of the accounts were set up years ago, and slowly amassed followers by tweeting about innocuous pop culture, such as NBC’s hit show This Is Us — a common tactic used to cloak misinformation campaigns in credibility.
Other accounts, such as @HKPoliticalNew, were attempting to pose as legitimate Hong Kong news outlets.
Facebook responded to Twitter’s move by pulling down 16 pages it said were linked to the same troll operation.
One post highlighted by Twitter’s public safety team read: “We don’t want you radical people in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!”
A recent China-linked Facebook post compared the pro-democracy protestors to ISIS fighters.
Another Twitter post said: “Are these people who smashed the Legco crazy or taking benefits from the bad guys?” (Legco is Hong Kong’s legislature, which was briefly occupied by protestors earlier this month.)