How China Used Twitter To Let Loose Fake Narrative On Chinese Virus
The Chinese virus started in the dragon country. To change the narrative, China has begun to tweet.
What the tweets are like?
The tweets are alleging that the US Army brought the virus to China. They are trumpeting the aid given by Chinese government to Italy. Few others are spreading disinformation and attacking Beijing’s usual political opponents.
The tweets also are making attempts to whitewash evidence suggesting China downplayed and covered up early indications of the impact of the Chinese virus.
They also obfuscate over the origins of the Chinese virus and are waging a massive propaganda campaign to rewrite the history of it and whitewash Communist Party’s lies to the Chinese people and the world.
Who are these Twitter users?
They are suspected Chinese operators who run fake Twitter accounts. Among those are the hacked accounts of users world over posting propaganda and disinformation about Chinese virus outbreak. They include professors, graphic artists, web designers and business analysts.
However, it is unclear whether the current fake account holders hacked the accounts themselves or purchased them from elsewhere.
Jeff Kao, a Pro-Publica reporter, in an interview to Voice of America Mandarin, talked about the changes he noticed in many accounts. As the Chinese virus spread, these accounts, which focused on Hong Kong changed to focus on the epidemic.
As it raged through China, many of the accounts “became cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to dispel online rumors,” Kao said.
As the epidemic spread worldwide and became a pandemic, the accounts pointed out China’s response at home.
Let us take a case study to understand better.
Kalen Keegan, a college student at the University of Nebraska Omaha, one fine morning found her twitter account hacked and noticed a torrent of posts in Chinese.
The new user, tweeting as @Kalenkayyy, had strong views on geopolitics, in line with the Chinese Communist Party. The person was pre-occupied with Hong Kong protests, praised Hong Kong police and accused demonstrators of fomenting a color revolution backed by an anti-Chinese American conspiracy.
As the Chinese virus outbreak led to a lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding cities in late January, the Hong Kong posts were deleted and new posts focusing on on the epidemic bombarded.
A month later, her Twitter profile began to change in other ways. He college reference disappeared and her headshot was replaced by a generic photo of two people kissing.
By the end of the week, her Twitter handle was completely changed. @Kalenkayyy now became a Chinese propaganda-posting zombie account named Kalun Tang.
Later, the account deleted more of its tweets and unfollowed all of its former friends. Now, it is temporarily restricted by Twitter for unusual activity.
Not only Kao noticed hijacking of suspended twitter account, but also came across circumstantial evidence of an internet marketing company, OneSight, in Beijing. The purpose of this account was to parrot Chinese government’s talking points as published in newspaper editorials or by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As per records, OneSight had held a contract to boost the Twitter following of China News Service, the country’s second-largest state-owned news agency. The news service operates under the United Front Work Department, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, long responsible for influence operations in foreign countries.
There are many more such companies working with the government, Kao said.
China’s activity is not only limited to humans, but also to bots, artificial intelligence bots that are used to promote their messages and narrative, Kao said.