Chinese bots flood Twitter in attempt to obscure Covid protests

November 29, 2022 in News by RBN Staff


Source: The Guardian

Activity indicates ‘first major failure’ to stop government interference under ownership of Elon Musk


Twitter has been flooded with nuisance posts designed to obscure news of the coronavirus lockdown protests in China, in an apparent state-directed attempt to suppress footage of the demonstrations.

Chinese bot accounts – not operated by humans – are being used to flood the social networking service with adverts for sex workers, pornography and gambling when users search for a major city in the country, such as Shanghai or Beijing, using Chinese script.

Alex Stamos, director at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said the Chinese activity indicated the “first major failure” to stop government interference under Twitter’s ownership by Elon Musk. He added that the actions appeared to be designed to limit international observation of the protests as access to Twitter is blocked inside China. However, Twitter can also be accessed within China via a virtual private network, which creates an encrypted connection between your device and a remote server, which can be located anywhere in the world.

Still working on our own analysis, but here is some good initial data that points to this being an intentional attack to throw up informational chaff and reduce external visibility into protests in China (Twitter being blocked for most PRC citizens):

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) November 28, 2022

The apparent manipulation of Twitter by Chinese government sources, first reported by the Washington Post, follows widespread job cuts at Twitter, including among members of Twitter’s trust and safety team. Musk, who bought Twitter for $44bn (£36.4bn) last month, has fired half of the company’s 7,500 staff and a further 1,200 have reportedly resigned after he told remaining workers to accept being “hardcore” or leave.

In July, a whistleblower warned that Twitter was subject to regular interference from foreign states. Peiter Zatko, who was fired as head of security at the company in January, said he was aware of “multiple episodes” of Twitter being penetrated by foreign intelligence agencies or being complicit in a threat to democracies.

Last week, Tech Against Terrorism, a United Nations-backed non-profit organisation, warned that staff reductions at Twitter could “expose the platform to terrorist exploitation”. The organisation raised concerns about reinstating banned accounts accused of promoting hate and violence, as well as a new policy to demote hateful content rather than remove it entirely.