Pro-China accounts have been flooding Twitter with messages that include the hashtag #GenocideGames to dilute the hashtag’s power meant to raise awareness about Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China where authorities have conducted forcible assimilation efforts against religious minorities, including Uyghur Muslims.
Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, professors at Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub, said that the largely automated accounts posting spam-like notes that began in late October seemed intended to make the hashtag harder for activists to mobilize around.
Such a tactic, known as hashtag flooding, is used to dilute the effectiveness of a popular hashtag so that other Twitter users searching the term would see swarms of unrelated content.
“The Chinese propaganda apparatus has been very focused on defending their image regarding the treatment of the Uyghur, while also promoting the Olympics. This hashtag is at the nexus of those two things,” Linvill said.
The hashtag flooding could also trigger Twitter’s monitoring systems as spam, in which case Twitter will remove all related content, Linvill and Warren added.
Linvill and Warren also said that more than 132,000 tweets posted from October 20 through January 20 used the hashtag #GenocideGames, and about 67% of the tweets were no longer viewable.
A spokesperson for Twitter said the company had taken action on some of these tweets and that the tweets were part of a network of China-backed accounts that Twitter first identified in December.
China’s government maintains tight control over the country’s domestic internet, directing social-media companies to censor subversive views.
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