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For several months, extremely high numbers of Hong Kongers have been protesting against a proposed bill which would allow for the extradition of wanted individuals to mainland China and other countries with which Hong Kong did not previously have any such agreement.
The protestors argue that the bill would undermine rule of law in the former British colony and place Hong Kong further under the jurisdiction of China. Since 1997, Hong Kong has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from China under the ‘one China, two systems’ principle. While the extradition bill has been temporarily shelved, Hong Kongers have continued to take a stand against what they see as a lingering threat to their democratic way of life.
While the vast majority of protestors have been peaceful, many media outlets supportive of the Chinese Communist Party have depicted the protests as violent, riotous rampages. This propaganda effort has extended to sharing disinformation on Western social media platforms, including content dehumanising the protestors.
Facebook has announced that it has removed several accounts which had been posting images depicting the protestors as armed terrorists, thugs and “cockroach soldiers”; comparison of groups of people with vermin such as cockroaches has previously been denounced by the United Nations as akin to pro-genocide propaganda. The five accounts, seven pages and three groups had at least 15,500 followers and tried to lure users to sites away from Facebook, such as news sites. They were found to be established by individuals connected to the Chinese government and showed ‘co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour’.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber-security policy, said that: “The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts – some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems – to manage pages posing as news organisations, post in groups, disseminate their content and also drive people to off-platform news sites.
“They frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.”
Facebook has shared its findings with law enforcement. Its internal investigation was initiated following a tip from Twitter about coordinated deception on its own platform.
Twitter recently announced that it has banned 936 accounts and suspended more than 200,000 accounts suspected to be part of a disinformation campaign by the Chinese government smearing the Hong Kong protestors. While Twitter is banned in China along with most other Western social networks, many of these accounts had accessed Twitter via a virtual private network (VPN).
“Covert, manipulative behaviours have no place on our service - they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” Twitter said in a statement.
Twitter also announced that it would ban all advertising from state-controlled news media entities. This will not affect publicly funded independent media bodies such as the BBC.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies are under considerable pressure to stem the influence of viral deception campaigns backed by foreign governments. A thorough investigation led by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” in the run-up to the 2016 US elections to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency.
This article first appeared on eandt.theiet.org
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