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Chinese bots flood Twitter with porn to hide news of mass protests

China Covid protests explained: Why are people demonstrating

Twitter feeds were inundated with Chinese bots promoting sex workers, gambling and pornography over the weekend - right as huge protests erupted against president Xi Jinping and Covid lockdowns.

Anti-government protests broke out across China, including Shanghai and Beijing, to oppose lockdown policies. Locals have alleged that some of the protests started after ten people died in a fire that couldn't be extinguished due to virus control barriers – claims that city officials deny.

People have since suggested that the NSFW spam was used to suppress footage of the news.

Mengyu Dong, a journalist whose work has focused on tech and censorship, suggested it was to "make it more difficult for Chinese users to access information about the mass protests."

He claimed on Sunday (November 27): "Some of these accounts have been dormant for years, only to become active yesterday after protests broke out in China."

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Searches for major Chinese cities involved in the mass protests "mostly see ads for escorts/porn/gambling, drowning out legitimate search results," Air-Moving Device said, accompanied by a string of charts and data.

Stanford Internet Observatory Director Alex Stamos also supported his claims by quote-tweeting and writing: "Still working on our own analysis, but here is some good initial data that points to this being an intentional attack to throw up informational chaff and reduce external visibility into protests in China (Twitter being blocked for most PRC citizens)".

A former Twitter employee has since spoke with The Washington Post anonymously, saying "This is a known problem that our team was dealing with manually, aside from automations we put in place."

Sunday’s campaign was "another exhibit where there are now even larger holes to fill," they said, before adding: "All the China influence operations and analysts at Twitter all resigned."

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