Tech

Twitter hit with wave of porn and spam obscuring tweets about China protests

Twitter search results for major Chinese cities have become filled with tweets about escort services, porn, and gambling that are obscuring legitimate reports about a wave of protests that have gripped the country, Washington Post and TechCrunch are reporting. Searches for “北京” (Beijing) or “上海” (Shanghai) are filled with such spam which, as of this writing, vastly outnumber any tweets about the protests.

Due to the heavy government censorship of Chinese media, protestors in the country are reportedly turning to VPNs to access Western services like Twitter and Telegram to coordinate their efforts, TechCrunch reports. The amount of spam, which is reported to be coming from government-linked accounts, makes it harder to find legitimate and useful information about the protests, and also impacts people outside the country who are trying to get on-the-ground information about events. Chinese police are also telling those present in-person at the protests to delete photos of the events from their phones, BBC News reports.

The protests relate to China’s stringent zero-Covid strategy, which has resulted in rolling lockdowns in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. Although the policy has been in place for some time, protests erupted after a recent apartment fire killed 10 people and injured nine more. One resident of the building told BBC News that Covid restrictions prevented residents from being able to easily leave the compound affected by the fire. 

The wave of Twitter spam coincides with multiple rounds of layoffs at the social media company following its takeover by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, which heavily impacted its trust and safety team. “This is a known problem that our team was dealing with manually, aside from automations we put in place,” one ex-employee told the Washington Post. But since Musk’s acquisition of the company, “all the China influence operations and analysts at Twitter all resigned,” the ex-employee said. 

Without mentioning the specifics of the China protests, Elon Musk tweeted early on Monday morning that “the amount of pro psy ops on Twitter is ridiculous!” before joking that “at least with new Verified they will pay $8 for the privilege.” He followed up with an image of Pepe the Frog accompanied by the slogan “I don’t care about this particular psyop, honestly.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge, but is widely reported to have disbanded its press office. However, a current Twitter employee told The Washington Post that the company is aware of the situation and is working to fix it. 


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