On August 19th, Twitter announced the shocking news of deleting the suspected Chinese Internet Army account. Twitter suspended 936"China-originated"accounts and said that these accounts have recently published a large number of fake messages related to Hong Kong’s protests."Basedon our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests."
READr analyzes the official information released by Twitter and finds that these 936 accounts are not all related to Hong Kong’s protests. Only 11%(105accounts) have published posts related to the protest. The rest of the accounts, which are identifiable, mostly involve pornography.
We also found a clear shift from the past tweets of the 105 deleted accounts related to the protest: The past tweets were heavily related to Korean idols, but after the US-China trade war broke out in June 2018, Chinese tweets appeared and a large number of criticisms and attacks on Chinese exiled businessman Guo Wengui. After June 2019, the tweet essays quickly turned into against Hong Kong’s protests and police support.
Deleted accounts are mainly from China
Of the 936 deleted accounts, 67% of the account language areas are set in China. As Twitter claimed, it was found that these accounts spread a great amount of disinformation about Hong Kong’s protests. We analyzed the posts of these deleted accounts after June 2019 and found that their post topic is not limited to Hong Kong. There are also violations of community codes such as pornography.
Through keyword extraction, we found out all the posts related to Hong Kong’s protests since the Hong Kong Government revised the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance on February 2018, and backtracked the account number. There are 105 accounts tweeted posts related to the"reversedelivery" issue.
Up to 90% of accounts started to speak Chinese last year
These accounts are not suddenly established. The peak of activity appeared in February 2018, but most of the posts appeared to be robot activities such as"@poll138060 170:1519268870" and "@nullIt is 17:10 UTC now".
After scrutinizing these accounts, up to 90% were not speaking Chinese before June 2018, and 36 accounts started to speaking Chinese after the start of Hong Kong’s protests in June 2019.
The anti-Hong-Kong-protest account used to be a group of diehard Korean fans
The past tweets of these accounts are mainly in English. Analyzing the keywords, it was found that these English words are mainly account and songs’ names of Korean idols, and it is possible to determine that these accounts have strong preferences for Korean idols. Keywords such as"Jihoon,"nickname of Park Ji-Hoon,"WannaOne," name of K-pop group,"BOOMERANG"and"IPROMISEYOU,"name of K-pop songs, are all related to Korean idols.
US-China trade war started on Twitter
These accounts began to frequently tweet in Chinese after June 2018. In addition to some of the keywords related to the US-China trade war, they have a clear commonality: Since Guo Wengui often publishes remarks on US-China relations and US-China trade war, a large number of tweets involve criticism of Chinese exiled businessman Guo Wengui.
During this period, these accounts also have obvious behaviors of sending messages through the robot. For example, a large number of"HourlyTime Now Beijing Time" string indicates the current time in the tweet.
In June, they started supporting polices and against“thugs”
From May to June this year, there was a huge shift in the keywords of these accounts. There are a large number of tweets that have begun to pay attention to Hong Kong, and their positions can be seen, such as"violence"and"thugs".Most of them criticize Hong Kong protesters for being too violent in the movement and support police enforcement.
The distribution of posts related to protests is close
We also tracked the interactions of 105 deleted accounts that involved issues in Hong Kong"s protest. Nearly 70% have more than 5,000 followers, and the largest account has nearly 50,000. Through the"retweet"interactive network map(clickhere to see the detailed interactive map), you can see that these accounts are grouped and each has a close interaction in their groups.
Buy an internet water army? Freedom of speech?
In an official statement, Twitter pointed out that this batch of suspended accounts is only"themost active of the 200,000 similar accounts", and they have already preventively suspended the remaining 200,000 potential fake accounts.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang responded yesterday(21).Chinese have the right to express their views and opinions. What happened in Hong Kong and what the truth is, the world naturally has its judgment. He raised the question, why the Chinese official media must introduce negative and wrong."Somecompanies or some people react so strongly, maybe some of their shortcomings are poked.