Tweeting through the Great Firewall: preliminary analysis of PRC-linked information operations on the Hong Kong protests

Digital communications Social media Political campaigns China Hong Kong

On August 19th 2019, Twitter released data on a network of accounts which it has identified as being involved in an information operation directed against the protests in Hong Kong. After a tip-off from Twitter, Facebook also dismantled a smaller information network operating on its platform. This network has been identified as being linked to the Chinese government. 

Researchers from the International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute have conducted a preliminary analysis of the dataset. Our research indicates that the information operation targeted at the protests appears to have been a relatively small and hastily assembled operation rather than a sophisticated information campaign planned well in advance.

However, our research has also found that the accounts included in the information operation identified by Twitter were active in earlier information operations targeting political opponents of the Chinese government, including an exiled billionaire, a human rights lawyer, a bookseller and protestors in mainland China. The earliest of these operations date back to April 2017.

This is significant because—if the attribution to state-backed actors made by Twitter is correct—it indicates that actors linked to the Chinese government may have been running covert information operations on Western social media platforms for at least two years. 

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