‘50% Porn, 50% Protests’: How China is Restricting News of Anti-Lockdown Stir on Social Media – News18

Amid the ongoing widespread protests in China, Twitter’s anti-propaganda team grappled with a flood of nuisance content in the country, which was probably aimed at reducing the flow of news of the agitation against Xi Jinping’s Covid policy.

Thousands of people took to the streets in several major cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, to call for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedoms, in a wave of nationwide protests not seen since pro-democracy rallies in 1989 were crushed.

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According to a report in The Washington Post, several Chinese-language accounts, which were inactive for many months or a year, started spamming social media with links to escort services and adult offerings alongside city names.

As a result of the spamming, anyone searching for posts along any Chinese cities and names of locations were able to see numerous pages of useless tweets instead of information related to the protests.

This comes amid mass layoffs and resignations which has significantly reduced the staff from 7,500 to roughly 2,000. Several groups in Twitter including its anti-propaganda, human rights issue, deceptive foreign influence have been reduced to a handful of people or no staff at all.

Chinese Platforms Censored

Beijing also censored the content related to the demonstrations on Chinese social media platforms.

The state censors scrubbed the platforms of any news of the rallies and search terms “Liangma River”, “Urumqi Road” — sites of protests in Beijing and Shanghai – removed of any references to the rallies on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Videos including those showing university students singing in protest and rallies in other cities had also vanished from WeChat, replaced by notices saying the content was reported for “non-compliant or sensitive content.”

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The Weibo search for the hashtag #A4 — a reference to the blank pieces of paper held up at rallies in a symbolic protest against censorship — also appeared to have been manipulated, showing only a handful of posts from the past day.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time that the technique to spam content using Twitter accounts have been used to hide news reports.

Earlier, the technique has been 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,” a former employee told The Washington Post.

The employee further said that all the China influence operations and analysts at Twitter have resigned.

The report said that Twitter was aware of the problem and it was working to resolve it.

“Fifty percent porn, 50 percent protests,” a US government contractor and China expert said while speaking on the issue.

“Once I got 3 to 4 scrolls into the feed” to see posts from earlier in the day, it was “all porn,” he added.

However, some social media users turned to advanced wordplay to discuss the protests, using terms like “banana peel”, which has the same initials as President Xi Jinping’s name in Chinese, and “shrimp moss”, which sounds similar to the phrase “step down”.

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