The Great Wall of porn overshadows China’s protest news on Twitter

The Great Wall of porn overshadows China's protest news on Twitter

Search any major Chinese city on Twitter, and you’ll see a cascade of spam tweets showcasing porn, escort services, and gambling content being posted every few seconds, making it impossible to get legitimate results.

There has been a “significant increase” in these tweets over the past three days, according to a Data analyst focused on China. The surge in such bot content coincides with an unprecedented wave of protests that swept through major Chinese cities and universities over the weekend.

The demonstrations are largely the result of China’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, a rare display of defiance among the people. The country’s severe COVID restrictions have led to prolonged lockdowns across the country, hampering life, business and productive activities.

Protests erupted last week at Apple’s biggest iPhone factory in China as workers wracked by delayed bonuses and worries about the spread of COVID.

Discussion of the new nationwide protests is strictly censored on Chinese social media, and protesters have turned to foreign platforms such as Twitter and Telegram for communication. All major Western social networks are banned in China and access requires the use of VPNs, which are also almost extinct in local app stores.

The content of the Twitter bot, thought to be linked to the government, makes it even more difficult for Chinese citizens to stage rallies. As part of his massive layoff plan, Elon Musk abruptly fired Twitter’s anti-propaganda staff. This is in stark contrast to 2019, when Twitter removed around 1,000 accounts it determined were part of a state-led effort to undermine protests in Hong Kong.

Location-based Chinese-language escort ads aren’t new to the social media platform, but how often they’ve been overshadowing Chinese city searches in recent days is unusual, as the data analyst noted:

Twitter “was aware” of the spam problem and was “working on fixing it,” the Washington Post reported Sunday evening, ET. And so Musk should be paying attention to the issue, as the billionaire was clearly concerned about Twitter bots, which prompted him to temporarily suspend the acquisition deal in May. Of course, the world is still waiting to see how it plans to fix the problem after it removes the key teams responsible for fighting disinformation.


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