Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that were found behaving in a coordinated manner while uploading videos relating to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
Huntley, in an online post said, “This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”
Twitter on Monday (August 19), said it had suspended 936 accounts which it said were seeking to “sow political discord” in Hong Kong and “undermine the legitimacy and political positions” of the pro-democracy protesters.
“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 active accounts it shut down.
Facebook had also removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts which, together, had around 15,5000 followers. Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Islamic State group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms. The protest movement, in its eleventh week, has brought the region to a standstill. According to estimates, 1.7 million people have been involved in the protests, and there have been more than 700 arrests.
China’s communist rulers have warned they may be prepared to deploy force to quell the nearly three months of unrest, and likened violent protesters to “terrorists”.
As unrest intensifies in the region, the Chinese government is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong behind the scenes through online, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“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.
“Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation,” Twitter added.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China as part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship. Due to the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
“However, some accounts accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China,” it said.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook also said.
Earlier this month, the Chinese ambassador to the UK warned other states against “interfering” in Hong Kong issue. He also attacked international media for its coverage of the protests.