Social media platforms Facebook and Twitter have both issued statements after internal investigations revealing state-backed operation by the Chinese government to smear the protest movement in Hong Kong. Some of the posts and tweets were found spreading disinformation and hate speech against Hong Kong protesters, describing protesters as ISIS terrorists and ‘cockroaches’.
According to the findings from an investigation conducted by Twitter, some accounts accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China. Twitter claimed that it has “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation”. Both Facebook and Twitter have taken down accounts and pages that are found involving in disinformation and manipulation of public opinion.
In light of the disclosure, IT legislator Charles Mok expressed strong concern and welcomed the action taken by Facebook and Twitter against the state-backed operation. Mok urged the two social media operators to continue to monitor and take action against deliberate dissemination of disinformation, and also called on other social media and platform operators to also take actions against organised campaigns of disseminating disinformation and hate speech in a bid to manipulate public opinions. Regarding Twitter’s recent change of its advertisement policy to ban state-controlled news media entities from placing advertisements on its platform, Mok welcomed the change and also called on other social media platforms to implement similar measures.
From the disclosure of the two social media operators, Mok believed that there are indications that the Chinese government is orchestrating a smear campaign to discredit the movement and protesters in Hong Kong, attempting to label them as terrorists and exploit the free flow of information on the Internet to spread false information on a large scale. Such smearing effort is clearly intended to weaken overseas support to the protesters in Hong Kong and abate the international criticism on escalating the force used to suppress the protesters.
“It is possible the disinformation campaign revealed by Facebook and Twitter is only the tip of an iceberg. The public should stay vigilant and exercise critical thinking when consuming online information coming from unknown sources, and should not spread unverified information to help the Chinese government manipulate public opinion,” said Mok.