Free Tibet exposes #ChinaSpam on Twitter

Thursday, 17 July 2014
China's fake accounts spread propaganda

Twitter told to end deceptive Tibet propaganda

In a major investigation, Free Tibet, working closely with the New York Times, has uncovered a web of fake Twitter accounts used to spread China's propaganda about Tibet.

Accounts bearing false Western names and carrying profile pictures and descriptions taken from real people are sharing tweets from English-language Chinese websites promoting the state’s messaging on Tibet.

The tweets include attacks on the Dalai Lama and news articles portraying Tibet as a contented and idyllic Chinese province.

We have identified around 100 fake accounts already but research suggests there are hundreds more, dedicated to spreading China’s messaging on Tibet and other issues of international concern, such as the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. One Tweet attacking the Dalai Lama has been retweeted more than 6,500 times.

You can contact Twitter to demand that it takes action on these fake accounts: send an email to CEO Dick Costolo here. If you have a Twitter account, please tweet Dick Costolo (@dickc) calling for an end to the #ChinaSpam.

Free Tibet calls on Twitter to act

We have submitted a detailed dossier to Twitter, urging it to investigate suspicious accounts and remove all found to be fake.

We have also urged Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to ensure that Twitter cannot be used for deceptive propaganda in the interests of authoritarian regimes in future.

In her letter to Mr Costolo, Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“A company of twitter’s size and high profile must take responsibility for failing to prevent abuse on this scale for the political purposes of an authoritarian regime. These accounts are an act of cynical deception designed to manipulate public opinion regarding an occupied and brutally repressed country.

“Tibetans within Tibet are completely denied the right to speak to the world online. They face even greater restrictions on their online activity than China’s own citizens and can receive sentences of up to life imprisonment for online or email content criticising China’s regime. China has the power and resources to use twitter for its own ends and Tibetans do not. In the words of concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed’.”

China's Tibet deception

Profile pictures on the false accounts include photographs of schoolgirls taken from professional photographers’ websites, commercial stock images and photographs of celebrities and professional models.

Profile descriptions include those taken from a sports journalist, a Scottish choreographer and a furniture business.

Many accounts have genuine followers, apparently believing the accounts belong to real people.

The twitter onslaught also includes many other forms of spam, including simply inserting "Tibet" into unrelated tweets to make it more difficult for online search engines to identify pro-Tibet content.

The Flickr slideshow includes some examples.

Take action

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Contact Twitter to demand that it stops helping China spread lies about Tibet. Send an email to CEO Dick Costolo here.