A Chinese spam campaign on Twitter: There is no shortage of problems centered around Twitter right now, including problems with its copyright strike system and the loss of advertisers in the wake of recent changes. Now, a Chinese spam campaign is running rampant as well, and it is doing so while Twitter is operating with a reduced anti-propaganda team.
What is going on? Over the weekend, Twitter found itself flooded by a Chinese spam campaign by accounts suspected to be connected to the government. The accounts seemed to manipulate Twitter, causing searches in Chinese for major Chinese cities to return a flood of spam, including links to escort ads, porn, gambling, and more.
- The accounts linked to the activity were Chinese-language accounts that were dormant for a long time before taking action on Sunday.
- According to the Washington Post, Twitter knew about the problem midday Sunday and was “working to resolve it.” However, Twitter’s staff has dropped from around 7,500 to 2,000 since Musk took ownership, which has hampered efforts on multiple fronts recently.
Why is it happening? Researchers believe that the Chinese spam campaign is in response to the mass protests occurring in China over COVID-19 policies. The spam hides news about what is happening, preventing Chinese users from accessing information about the protests.
- During the Chinese spam campaign on Twitter, users typing major Chinese city names in the Chinese language found themselves flooded with spam links and content.
- Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that the campaign seemed to be “an intentional attack to throw up informational chaff and reduce external visibility into protests in China” since Twitter is actually blocked in China.
What is being hidden? China is currently experiencing widespread protests, a rarity in the country. The primary cause is the way China has dealt with COVID, including harsh protocols that have kept people on edge for quite some time. Since the pandemic, there have been mass-testing efforts, brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantine, and digital tracking led by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
- There have been major human and economic costs due to the extreme measures used.
- Some protestors called for the removal of Xi Jinping or for CCP to step down, but most just want the COVID restrictions to end.
- China currently faces a record COVID outbreak, reporting 40,000 new cases on Tuesday.
Deaths during an apartment fire brought everything to a head. The fire killed ten people in Urumqi, where residents had been under lockdown, and many began asking whether the COVID restrictions kept people from escaping, sparking outrage.
- According to the New York Times, “Makeshift barricades and bolted doors have become a key feature of efforts to prevent people who might have been exposed to the virus from leaving their homes and buildings.”
The Chinese spam campaign is not the only effort to hide things. Attempts to cover the protests have been met with resistance everywhere, even resulting in a BBC journalist Edward Lawrence being arrested and beaten by the police before his release hours later.
- Officials claimed they “arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd.” Otherwise, no explanation was given.
- According to CNN, a Swiss TV journalist was also arrested for a duration on Sunday.
Twitter’s problematic state made it possible. The Chinese spam campaign is not Twitter’s first time dealing with foreign interference. There are systems in place, but the social media platform is in a particularly weak state, with layoffs affecting content moderation and security.
- In 2020, Twitter took on a misinformation campaign where it found and removed state-linked accounts spreading pro-China content.
- In 2021, the platform removed thousands of other accounts involved in Chinese propaganda campaigns.
It is unknown what Musk plans to do to prevent this and other issues from occurring in the future, but for now, the lack of staff continues to undermine the social media platform.