Twitter is allowing “promoted tweet” ads that form a campaign against Hong-Kong pro-democracy protesters. The campaign, from the state-owned China Xinhua News agency, has promoted tweets claiming that, as a result of “radicalized protests” in Hong Kong, the “wellbeing of its 7 million residents is compromised.”
China Xinhua News, that was founded by the Communist Party of China, has long been called out for pushing propaganda by both government agencies and non-profits that promote freedom of information. In 2018, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered China Xinhua News to register as a foreign agent as part of its efforts to combat Chinese propaganda operations. And in 2005, Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit which focuses on defending media freedom, described China Xinhua News as “the world’s biggest propaganda agency.”
The protests in Hong Kong are related to China’s plans to charge and extradite Hong Kong citizens. However, in one of its promoted tweets, China Xinhua News ignores the cause of the protests and instead focuses on the actions of the protestors and the supposed “damage” they’re causing to the Chinese economy.
In this promoted tweet, that's positioned as though it's a news report, China Xinhua News goes on to suggest that the protestors have “behind-the-scenes string-pullers” and that “color revolutions instigated by Western forces” are partially to blame. China Xinhua News then claims that:
“It is the common aspiration the Hong Kong people to stop the chaos and violence so that Hong Kong can return to prosperity and harmony. Anyone who harms the city will surely be severely punished by law and condemned by the people.”
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) August 15, 2019
This is one of the many promoted tweets from China Xinhua News about the Hong Kong protests that ignores China’s controversial extradition plans. The agency mostly uses ads to frame the protestors in a negative light and suggest that Hong Kong residents support the Chinese state and local police force while being against the protestors.
In this promoted tweet, China Xinhua News asks the question “Who is behind the violence in Hong Kong?” and suggests it’s the protestors.
In another promoted tweet, the agency accuses some media reports on the Hong Kong protests of being “extremely biased” and “malicious,” even though China Xinhua News itself is only showing one side of the story and could be considered biased in its portrayal of the protestors.
This promoted tweet from China Xinhua News once again suggests that the protestors are causing “wide-spread violence” and that it “will drag Hong Kong into the abyss” – wording that’s encouraging the protestors to submit to the Chinese state.
Another promoted tweet from the agency contains pro-China messaging and selectively shows Hong Kong residents who “express their reverence to Chinese national emblem and flag” instead of residents who show reverence to their own state flag.
And in this promoted tweet, the agency claims that “Hong Kong citizens voice their support for the police force, who has exercised extraordinary restraint in the face of riots.” This once again frames the protestors as the cause of the violence.
A further promoted tweet from China Xinhua News suggests “the most urgent task now is to stop violence and safeguard the rule of law to prevent #HongKong from sinking into “an abyss where it will be smashed to pieces”” – another call for the protestors to submit to China or face destruction.
In this promoted tweet, China Xinhua News again claims that the protestors are “radical” and suggests that they’re “inciting youth” – framing that continues to suggest that the protestors are causing violence.
Yet another promoted tweet from the agency makes similar claims about the protestors, describing them as “radicals who instigated violence.”
And in this promoted tweet, China Xinhua News claims “Hong Kong residents have shown their strong support to the police force in enforcing law and maintaining order and security for the city” – framing that suggests residents are behind the police and against protestors.
Twitter pushing these promoted tweets from China Xinhua News comes after multiple previous reports have indicated that the Chinese government is using a range of online tools to either suppress the Hong Kong protests or censor content to give citizens a false reality about the protests.
The founder of Telegram, a messaging tool which protestors have been using to share news and organize, said that China is sponsoring distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to suppress Hong Kong protests. Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s largest news outlets, was also hit with a DDoS attack after covering the Hong Kong protests. Apple Daily believes that the DDoS attack was an attempt to suppress the outlet’s reporting on the protests.