How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let It Loose on Coronavirus

ProPublica analyzed thousands of fake and hijacked Twitter accounts to understand how covert Chinese propaganda spreads around the globe.

ProPublica
Date:  March 26, 2020
By: Jeff Kao, ProPublica and Mia Shuang Li for ProPublica

Posts by Twitter accounts involved in an ongoing Chinese government influence campaign discovered by ProPublica. (Allen Tan/ProPublica)

Kalen Keegan, a college student at the University of Nebraska Omaha, immediately noticed when her Twitter account unleashed a torrent of posts in Chinese. “My other account got hacked👍🏽,” the soccer player posted on a replacement account. The new author tweeting as @Kalenkayyy had strong views on geopolitics — all aligned with the Chinese Communist Party. It was obsessed with the protests in Hong Kong, offered uncritical praise of the Hong Kong police and accused demonstrators of fomenting a “color revolution” backed by an “anti-Chinese American conspiracy.”

As the coronavirus outbreak led to a lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding cities in late January, the Hong Kong posts were suddenly deleted. The account continued to post relentlessly in Chinese, but it now focused on the burgeoning epidemic. About a month later, her Twitter profile began to change in other ways. The reference to her college disappeared and her headshot was replaced by a generic photo of two people kissing. By the end of the week, her Twitter transformation was complete. @Kalenkayyy was now a Chinese propaganda-posting zombie account belonging to someone purportedly named Kalun Tang.

Her new tagline? “When women arm themselves with softness, they are the strongest.”

Later, the account deleted more of its tweets and unfollowed all of its former friends. It is currently temporarily restricted by Twitter for unusual activity.    [FULL  STORY]

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