Twitter’s radically reduced anti-propaganda team grappled on Sunday with a flood of nuisance content in China that researchers said was aimed at reducing the flow of news about stunning widespread protests against coronavirus restrictions.
Numerous Chinese-language accounts, some dormant for months or years, came to life early Sunday and started spamming the service with links to escort services and other adult offerings alongside city names.
The result: For hours, anyone searching for posts from those cities and using the Chinese names for the locations would see pages and pages of useless tweets instead of information about the daring protests as they escalated to include calls for Communist Party leaders to resign.
It is not the first time that suspected government-connected accounts have used the technique, according to a recently departed Twitter employee. But in the past, it was used to discredit a single account or a small group by naming them in the escort ads.
“This is a known problem that our team was dealing with manually, aside from automations we put in place,” said the former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution for disclosing internal processes.
In mass layoffs and resignations, Twitter’s overall staff has been slashed from about 7,500 to roughly 2,000, surviving employees estimated. Some groups, including those dealing with human rights issues, safety concerns and deceptive foreign influence operations, have been reduced to a handful of people or no staff at all.
Sunday’s campaign was “another exhibit where there are now even larger holes to fill,” the ex-employee said. “All the China influence operations and analysts at Twitter all resigned.” [Continue reading…]