Twitter bans over 32k accounts that peddled state-sponsored propaganda

Social media giant Twitter today announced that it has banned 32,242 accounts that were being used by China, Russia, and Turkey to disseminate propaganda in violation of its platform manipulation policies.

Of the 32,000 odd accounts, as many as 23,750 accounts were found to be involved in "a range of manipulative and coordinated activities" to spread geopolitical narratives favourable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.

Twitter also uncovered as many as 150,000 user accounts which had a relatively low engagement and follower accounts but were being used to amplify and spread narratives peddled by the 23,750 core accounts.

Twitter also banned 1,152 accounts and 7,340 accounts that spread narratives favourable to Russia's United Russia party and Turkey's ruling AK Parti respectively, with both sets of accounts demonstrating strong support for the ruling parties in both countries.

Among the accounts that were being used to promote President Erdogan and his party, Twitter found a number of compromised accounts that previously belonged to organisations critical of President Erdogan and the Turkish Government. These accounts were constantly targeted using account takeover and account hacking techniques by state actors.

Twitter said that the banning of state-backed accounts is part of its goal to serve the public conversation, remove bad-faith actors, and to advance public understanding of critical topics. The company said that going forward, it will continue to formalise academic partnerships to advance public understanding of these issues, and will offer more clarity in the public archive around impression counts and attempt to further measure the tangible impact of information operations on the public conversation.

This isn't the first time that nation-states have used popular social media applications and other popular forums to carry out psychological warfare aimed at destabilising their adversaries or to promote their interests. A few years ago, a CNN investigation revealed that a Russian hacker group actively used Pokemon Go and other social media platforms to promote racial hatred and to meddle in, control, and influence the political atmosphere in the U.S.

The investigation found that the Russian Internet Research Agency made active use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube as well as the uber-popular online game Pokemon Go to promote racial hatred and to back movements like Black Lives Matter and Don't Shoot Us.

The agency also ran hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts to promote racial hatred. A YouTube page dedicated to the Don't Shoot Us campaign contained more than 200 videos of police brutality which were viewed more than 368,000 times.

After these accounts were reported, Facebook and Twitter identified as many as 470 and 201 accounts respectively that were linked to the Internet Research Agency. Google also revealed that thousands of dollars were spent by Russian accounts to purchase ad space on its various platforms, including YouTube.

CNN also revealed that an email address used by the Internet Research Agency to contact Brandon Weigel, an editor at Baltimore City Paper, to promote a protest outside a courthouse was also used to contact other journalists as well as to promote contests on Pokemon Go.

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