Social networking giant Twitter disclosed today three new state-linked information operations that have been taken place on its platform this year.
As a result of its investigation, Twitter said it banned and removed 32,242 accounts that were part of networks operated out of China, Russia, and Turkey, all three pushing local political agendas and narratives, and associated with state-sponsored entities.
China — anti-Hong Kong protests network
Of the three networks, the largest was the one based in China. Twitter said it banned 23,750 accounts that served as the core of the network and which were responsible for posting most of the content.
Tweets posted by these accounts were then amplified by a secondary network of more than 150,000 accounts, acting as amplifiers.
“Of the approximately 150,000 amplifier accounts, the majority had little to no follower counts either and were strategically designed to artificially inflate impression metrics and engage with the core accounts,” Twitter said.
The social network said the entire operation was involved “in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities” and that most of their tweets were in the Chinese language.
The goal of these tweets was to push and spread geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China among Chinese-speaking users, but also “deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.”
Twitter said this new batch of accounts it banned today appears to be connected to another similar operation it banned in August 2019, when they banned 936 accounts that formed the core misinformation network, supported by a similar outer shell of 200,000 amplifier accounts.
Russia — attacking political dissidents
But Twitter also banned a series of accounts ran from Russia. Twitter said it found and removed 1,152 accounts associated with Current Policy, a news site pushing state-backed political propaganda.
Just like the network operated out of China, this network was also targeting a local market, namely Russian-speaking users.
“Activities included promoting the United Russia party and attacking political dissidents,” Twitter said.
Turkey — hacking anti-Erdogan accounts
A third similar network was also banned in Turkey, also pushing politically-themed tweets aimed at Turkish-speaking users.
“Based on our analysis of the network’s technical indicators and account behaviors, the collection of fake and compromised accounts was being used to amplify political narratives favorable to the AK Parti, and demonstrated strong support for President Erdogan,” Twitter said.
In total, Twitter removed 7,340 accounts, and the company said it believes the accounts were operated by the youth wing of the AK Parti.
Furthermore, this network didn’t include just bots but also compromised accounts. Twitter said the hacked accounts were previously associated with organizations critical of President Erdogan and the Turkish government, which made their new pro-government tweets stand out.
“These compromised accounts have been repeated targets of account hacking and takeover efforts by the state actors identified above,” Twitter said. “The broader network was also used for commercial activities, such as cryptocurrency-related spam.”