Twitter drowned out by sexually explicit spam, drowning out discussion of Chinese protests

A spam campaign to suppress online posts about Chinese protests against “zero-Covid” rules has flooded Twitter with sexually explicit images, researchers say.

Wright stated that although it’s not clear if the campaign was sponsored or conducted directly by the Chinese government it is difficult to imagine anyone else being able to run such a large campaign.

Liu Pengyu was the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington. He denied the allegation and said it “has no factual basis.”

He stated in an email that U.S. officials, including members of Congress, media, and institutions, had been spreading disinformation against China, without providing any evidence.

The spam campaign was also monitored by other researchers. Kenton Thibaut is a resident fellow at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab, who focuses on China. He said that the campaign was especially noticeable because Twitter’s ability to combat it was hindered by recent layoffs under the new owner Elon Musk. Teams responsible for content moderation or fighting misinformation were particularly affected by the layoffs.

These spam campaigns have been seen in relation to political events such as Russia or Syria. They were once considered an advanced form digital propaganda and are now considered fairly basic.

Dec. 2, 202201:51

Thibaut stated that before Musk’s Twitter layoffs, “this type of stuff could have been handled fairly quickly and the information atmosphere could be a bit clearer for genuine information.” “But because it’s allowed this type of stuff to come into and muddy the waters, it’s really allowed that.”

Chinese authorities claim that their “zero Covid” controls are essential to save lives in an unvaccinated population. This is a population that has only been exposed to the virus for three years. They have taken steps to relax some restrictions following the suppression of the protests which were the largest demonstration of public unrest in the country’s history.

Online censors struggled to keep up with the rapid spread of videos from the protests on Chinese social media. Many of the videos also found their way onto Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. These platforms are all blocked in China but can be accessed by some Chinese users via virtual private networks.

Wright stated that she has seen thousands of tweets per hour in some cases, although there are not any hard numbers. She said that this type of flooding under popular hashtags makes educating journalists and Chinese abroad about public dissent more difficult.

Wright stated that if an audience goes onto a social media platform in order to search for information about what’s going on in Beijing or China, they won’t be looking for this type of content so they’re more likely scroll through and ignore it. It can be very effective in driving out the truth, real videos and real content about protests.

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