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China cries foul after Facebook, Twitter block fake accounts linked to Hong Kong protests

Anti-extradition bill protesters march to demand democracy and political reforms, in Hong Kong, China. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Beijing, China Aug 20, 2019, 04.11 PM (IST)

China said on Tuesday it had a right to put out its own views after Twitter and Facebook said they had dismantled a state-backed social media campaign originating in mainland China that sought to undermine protests in Hong Kong.

Twitter Inc said on Monday it suspended 936 accounts and the operations appeared to be a coordinated state-backed effort originating in China.

Facebook Inc said it had removed accounts and pages from a small network after a tip from Twitter.

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Facebook said its investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government. 

"These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground," Twitter said, referring to the accounts it shut down.

"We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change," Twitter said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined direct comment on the Twitter and Facebook actions but defended the right of Chinese people and media to make their voices heard over the Hong Kong protests.

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government," Facebook said.

Twitter and Facebook have come under fire from users over showing ads from state-controlled media that criticised the Hong Kong protesters. 

Twitter said Monday it would no longer accept advertising from state-controlled news media, and told Reuters the change was not related to the suspended accounts.

Twitter and Facebook are blocked by the Chinese government from being used in the mainland but are freely accessible in Hong Kong, where protests since June have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades.

Chinese media use foreign social media to communicate with people around the world to introduce them to Chinese policies and "tell China's story", Geng said.

"I don't know why certain companies or peoples' reaction is so strong," he added.

Story highlights

Twitter Inc said on Monday it suspended 936 accounts and the operations appeared to be a coordinated state-backed effort originating in China.