Social media and the world’s repressive regimes – Press Enterprise

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Tech companies may not want to be at the center of global political battles, but increasingly it appears that they cannot avoid it.

On Monday, Twitter announced that it has removed 936 accounts and suspended 200,000 others used by the government of China to damage the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The company said it will not tolerate “covert, manipulative behaviors” on its service, revealing that the People’s Republic of China was running a “significant state-backed information campaign” designed to “sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political protest movement on the ground.”

Twitter also said it will no longer accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities, which includes China Daily, but not partially tax-funded independent news organizations such as PBS, NPR or the BBC. That decision followed a report in The Intercept that China had used paid promotion on Twitter to spread disinformation about internment camps in the western province of Xinjiang, where the U.N. has estimated 1 million Muslim Uyghurs — including women, children and elderly people — are being detained in the name of fighting extremism.

It isn’t only China that is using fake accounts to disseminate propaganda on social media. In June, Twitter shut down 33 accounts tied to the government of Venezuela, four accounts tied to the Russian government and 4,800 accounts connected to the government of Iran.

And it isn’t only Twitter. Facebook said Monday it has removed three groups, five accounts and seven pages, all originating in China and targeting Hong Kong. “We don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” the company said.

Any form of communication can be employed to manipulate people, and social media will never be immune from that risk. However, it’s the government of China, or any other repressive regime, that is at the greatest risk from the power of social media. That’s because information has become more difficult to contain, to censor and to control.

China continues to try. Reuters reported on Aug. 9 that the Chinese government paid five media groups in Taiwan to publish positive articles about China, including feature stories about Chinese business incentives available to the Taiwanese.

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