New Delhi: Twitter users, who wish to know more about the ongoing anti-Covid dissent in China, are getting “spam, pornography and gibberish” as search results, a report has said.
Disinformation researchers believe this is an attempt by the Chinese government to hold back images of demonstrators, protesting the country’s extremely costly zero-Covid policy.
Thousands of demonstrators have even called for the removal of Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who for the last three years has overseen the country’s policy of “brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantine and digital tracking that has come at a devastating human and economic cost”.
Meanwhile, Twitter searchers in Chinese are being frustrated by a stream of “nonstop stream of solicitations, images of scantily clad women in suggestive poses and seemingly random word — and sentence fragments”.
This happened over the weekend when searchers looked for images from major protest hotspots like Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Guangzhou.
The accounts that are returning porn, according to the report, had been created only months ago, and they follow virtually no other accounts and have no followers of their own.
The spike in this “inauthentic behaviour” coincided with the rise of angry protests following a deadly fire in China’s Xinjiang province that killed 10 people.
It was reported that strict Covid restrictions delayed the fire-tenders from reaching the blaze on time.
This apparent suppression campaign by bots does not speak well of Twitter’s new boss Elon Musk’s vow earlier that he would “wage a war against bots and spammers”.
China, meanwhile, have also begun inquiries into some of the people who gathered at weekend protests against COVID-19 curbs, as police continued their strict patrol in cities.
In one case, a caller — identifying as a police officer in the Chinese capital — asked the protester to show up at a police station on Tuesday to deliver a written record of their activities on Sunday night, Reuters reported.
In another, a student was contacted by their college and asked if they had been in the area where events took place and to provide a written account.
“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” one Beijing protester who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
The ongoing protests in China is the biggest wave of civil disobedience in Jinping’s decade-long reign over the country, which continues with strict lockdowns that have sharply slowed down the country’s economy and growth.