The Chinese government’s actions amid protests in Hong Kong have led YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove hundreds of fake accounts. According to the companies, they served to sow discord among the protesters.
YouTube, for example, announced on Thursday (22) that it had removed 210 accounts from its platform. The action was taken after the company discovered that the channels acted in a coordinated manner when posting videos related to the protests in Hong Kong.
“We realized the use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activities commonly associated with coordinated operations of influence,” said Google Security risk analysis group director Shane Huntley.
Google gave no examples of the videos removed and did not go so far as to claim that the action was part of a Beijing government campaign. However, the company says the discovery was “consistent with recent China-related observations and actions announced by Facebook and Twitter”.
Facebook and Twitter accuse Chinese government
On Monday (19), Facebook announced it had removed 7 pages, 3 groups and 5 profiles used to post content about protests in support of the government. The company said they were linked to inauthentic coordinated activity, which is prohibited on the social network.
In all, the pages had 15,500 followers and the groups, 2,200 participants. “Although the people behind this activity tried to hide their identities, our investigation found connections from individuals associated with the Chinese government,” said Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.
Facebook says it carried out its investigation based on information shared by the Twitter security team, which on Monday said it had removed 936 profiles for violations such as spam and coordinated action.
The platform, which is blocked in China, claims that many accounts accessed the social network via VPNs. However, others used IP addresses without blocking and, with that, their origin was identified.
“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated and state-supported operation,” he said. In its statement, the company also published databases with the accounts removed and their tweets.
“These accounts tried deliberately and specifically to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the streets,” continued the company.
Protests in Hong Kong
At demonstrations in Hong Kong, considered a Special Administrative Region of China since 1997, is targeted at the central government of Beijing. They started in June in response to a bill that would make it possible to extradite suspects to mainland China.
The proposal was suspended in July, but protesters call for it to be definitively canceled. They also want the protests not to be considered “riots”, that the arrested protesters have amnesty and that the elections in the region have universal suffrage.