According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a company with which Twitter worked to analyze the accounts, among the objectives of the Beijing campaign was the “attempt to exploit the ability to extend the influence of the party state”, through Chinese citizens outside the Nation.
Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory, who also analyzed the accounts, said that many of the accounts that posted tweets in Chinese on Covid-19 during the spring had only been created in late January. In tweets, Beijing’s response to the virus was “praised.”
Twitter said it had identified a core of 23,750 accounts that would be used to tweet favorable content in Beijing and 150,000 other accounts, in which content was amplified, for example by retweeting the news published by the main accounts.
The 23,750 accounts collectively tweeted 348,608 times, according to Stanford researchers. Twitter stated that many of the accounts were identified in advance and therefore had a low number of followers and low engagement.
The Chinese foreign ministry immediately distanced itself: “If Twitter really wants to do something, it should close the coordinated and organized accounts that attack and defile China,” said Hua Chunying, a ministry spokesman. “China is the biggest victim of disinformation and we are against the spread of disinformation.”
This is not the first such action taken by Twitter. In August 2019, the company removed just under 1,000 accounts that were believed to operate within mainland China to “attempt to sow political discord in Hong Kong.”
Twitter also announced that it has closed accounts related to Russia and Turkey. The Russian network was made up of just over a thousand accounts linked to Current Policy, an information site that makes propaganda on behalf of the government. Network activities included promoting United Russia, the party of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and attacking political dissidents. The Turkish network had 7,340 accounts, engaged in a narrative favorable to President Erdogan and its party, the AKP.