China’s web of fake Western Twitter users attacks Dalai Lama and spreads Tibet propaganda

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tweeters have false names; use stolen images as profile pictures Research by campaigning NGO Free Tibet has revealed that China’s latest attempt to persuade the world that Tibet is a safe, protected and happy Chinese province involves a web of fake personal Twitter accounts to spread its propaganda. Accounts bearing false Western names and carrying attractive profile pictures and descriptions taken from real people (1, photos available) are sharing tweets originating with Chinese websites (2) promoting the state’s messaging on Tibet. The content disseminated includes attacks on the Dalai Lama – one Tweet attacking the Dalai Lama has been retweeted 6,555 times (3). Free Tibet has identified around 100 accounts which are undoubtedly fake but our research suggests there may be hundreds more, dedicated to spreading China’s messaging not just on Tibet but on other issues of international concern, such as the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. Free Tibet has submitted a detailed dossier to Twitter (4) and demanded immediate action to investigate suspicious accounts and remove all found to be fake (5). Free Tibet has also urged Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to introduce, as a matter of urgency, policies to prevent Twitter being used for deceptive propaganda in the interests of authoritarian regimes (6). In her letter to Mr Costolo, Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said “A company of Twitter’s size and high profile must take responsibility for failing to prevent abuse on this scale for the political purposes of an authoritarian regime. These accounts are not the exercise of free speech but an act of cynical deception designed to manipulate public opinion regarding an occupied and brutally repressed country. “Tibetans within Tibet are completely denied the right to speak to the world online. They face even greater restrictions on their online activity than China’s own citizens and can receive sentences of up to life imprisonment for online or email content criticising China’s regime. China has the power and resources to use Twitter for its own ends and Tibetans do not. In the words of concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed’.” Profile pictures on the accounts include photographs of US schoolgirls taken from professional photographers’ websites, models, commercial stock images and photographs of celebrities such as the deceased former singer of Pink Floyd Syd Barrett and Smallville actress Emily Durrant (7). Profile descriptions include those taken from a sports journalist, a Scottish choreographer and a furniture business (8). Active accounts have dummy followers to boost their credibility and avoid detection as fake but many also have genuine followers, apparently believing the accounts belong to real people. -ends- Contact For further information, images and comment, contact Free Tibet press and media manager Alistair Currie E: Alistair@freetibet.org T: +44 (0)207 324 4605 M: +4 (0)780 165 4011 Notes for editors (1) Dossier containing examples available at http://freetibet.org/files/Free%20Tibet%20Twitter%20Dossier%20July%202014.pdf . Selected screen grabs available on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157645747389161/ and from Free Tibet. Examples of fake accounts include https://twitter.com/lydiamay789 and https://twitter.com/alicevivian258 (2) Almost all Tibet-related content originates from this Twitter account https://twitter.com/tibetol which lists its website as http://www.tibetol.cn/ (English version: http://en.tibetol.cn/). The tweets themselves link to http://tibet.use.icp100.com/ (3) See https://twitter.com/felixjames654/status/438203961745489920 and https://twitter.com/philomenarebec/status/439312414274629632. Tweet retweeted 6,555 times (as of 21 July 2014): https://twitter.com/tomhugo148/status/438864650050867200 (4) See note (1), above. (5) Twitter’s rules https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules# prohibit the use of multiple accounts to promote the same service and the theft of copyrighted material but are unclear on the theft of parts of a Twitter user’s profile if there is no attempt to impersonate the original user. (6) Copy of letter available here http://freetibet.org/files/Free%20Tibet-Dick%20Costolo%20re%20fake%20accounts%2021-07-14.pdf and from Free Tibet. (7) Examples: a. https://twitter.com/tomhugo148 is a Brazilian model http://www.malemodelscene.net/editorial/felipe-berto-rick-day/; b. https://twitter.com/felixjames654 is a stock image http://www.nanjingexpat.com/college-translation/index.php/industries/information-technology; c. https://twitter.com/AlaynaNewark is Emily Durrant; d. https://twitter.com/Castleberrypgx/following is Syd Barrett. Note: Free Tibet has identified a number of private individuals whose photographs and profiles have been used but is withholding their identities to protect their privacy. Please contact Free Tibet directly for more information. (8) See https://twitter.com/Owingsykm and https://twitter.com/QuiteBuy