Facebook and Twitter clearing platforms from malicious influence

Over 2000 arrested and five suicides linked to the protests are the result of a tense situation that has caused Chinese authorities to send security forces to the border with the Autonomous Region, directly creating a large-scale international crisis. After the support to the protesters was send from Taiwan and other international addresses, the situation became even more complicated.

Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony and as such, it avoided the establishment of a one-party system and enjoyed the free society status. Britain has accepted to withdraw under the treaty, agreeing with China that the city and the region would continue to enjoy a special status. Thus, the maxim one country, two systems was created.

Although there are no direct elections to the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive Officer, Hong Kong has maintained a liberal attitude towards civic activism and independent media, inherited from the British rule. All these are reasons why the Extradition Bill[1], was put in the process. If adopted, the Bill will enable local authorities to detain and extradite people who are requested on the territories Hong Kong do have signed extradition agreements with, including Mainland China. Although the cause was not related to China, civil society in Hong Kong saw it as a threat to their heritage ​​and freedom, for the fear of the establishment of the PR of China’s judicial jurisdiction over the Hong Kong territory.

In spring, spontaneous gatherings of citizens began, escalating after the use of police force, and resulting in the very quick expansion of the list of requests. Beside the initial request, the request to withdraw the draft Bill from the procedure, the list now included the following: to withdraw the characterization of the protests as riots (as authorities call it), to release the arrested, to establish an independent commission to investigate police brutality, the resignation of the Chief executive and to call for the elections with universal suffrage.

Since the very beginning of the protests, the fight has been waged on social networks as well, which are used by the protest organizers to disseminate information and coordinate activities, but also by the Chinese authorities to spread propaganda.

After following activities of suspicious IP addresses from the territory of Mainland China, Twitter conducted an investigation and uncovered a large volume of coordinated activities aimed at amplifying the reach of propaganda content. Since Twitter is blocked in China, the VPN approach was used to circumvent the blockades. However, what raised further doubt about the Chinese government’s involvement was the use of rare unblocked IP addresses, for which there is no censorship of internet access.

The posts characterized the protest organizers as foreign mercenaries, the content on the participants’ violence was spread, while the protesters were compared to cockroaches and ISIS[2]. After the results of the investigation, 936 Twitter accounts were deleted on August 19, while 200,000 users sharing this content were suspended for not complying with the platform’s User Agreement, the document available on Twitter’s official website.

Activities that are not tolerated are spamming, or repetitive sending of advertising content without the consent of the recipient, further coordinated activities, fake profiles, and profiles associated with the known rule-breakers, as well as with those who evade the ban on use by employing various methods. This is not the first time Twitter has responded like this; during protests in Iran, 4,800 users were deleted due to suspicions on human rights jeopardizing and the use of the platform as a cover-up tool.

Both platforms have committed to the constant monitoring of abuses on their networks, to guarantee complete independence and impartiality of information. To this end, paid advertising on the networks is also being controlled, which is prohibited for state-owned and state-controlled media.

Photo, source: hongkongfp – the scene in Hong Kong at the Pacific Place where protestor Marco Leung fell to his death from atop construction scaffolding, after protesting against the Extradition Bill

[1] The Extradition Bill is a direct consequence of the death of girl Poon Hiu-wing from Hong Kong murdered by her boyfriend while visiting Taiwan late last year

[2] A propaganda technique used to intimidate ethnic Uyghurs, mostly Muslim communities in the west of the country, in the unstable Autonomous Province of Xinjiang