The company said the accounts “spread geopolitical narratives favorable to the Chinese Communist Party” and were removed due to a breach of its platform’s manipulation policies.
The abolition of Twitter is the latest development in Silicon Valley’s attempt to prevent governments using social media platforms from pushing narratives in their favor.
Twitter is officially blocked in China, although many people in the country have access to it via VPN. Among the targets of the Chinese campaign were the Chinese abroad “in an effort to exploit their ability to expand the influence of the party-state,” according to the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, a team with which Twitter worked to analyze accounts. Twitter said the accounts tweeted “mostly in Chinese”.
Renee DiResta, director of research at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, who also analyzed the accounts, said many of those who published information about Covid-19 throughout the spring were created only in late January.
“Stories about Covid,” SIO wrote in its analysis, “praises China’s response to the virus, while tweets also use the pandemic to compete with U.S. and Hong Kong activists.”
Twitter said it had identified 23,750 accounts it described as a “core network of high commitment” used to tweet content that was favorable to Beijing and 150,000 accounts used to boost content, for example, by retweeting content published from key accounts.
The 23,750 accounts tweeted collectively 348,608 times, according to Stanford researchers.
Twitter said many of the accounts had been located early and therefore had a low number of followers and low commitment.
This is not the first such action on Twitter. In August 2019, the company canceled about 1,000 accounts believed to be operating in mainland China because “they were deliberately trying to sow political discord in Hong Kong.”
The company also announced on Thursday that it had closed accounts linked to Russia and Turkey.
Twitter found more than 1,000 accounts promoted by the ruling United Russia party.
In Turkey, a network of 7,340 accounts has published favorable content from AK Party Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Stanford researchers said the accounts had been tweeted 37 million times.
Tweets from many of the accounts that Twitter closes will be published by the company in a file where they can be studied.