China Calls on Twitter to Remove Anti-Beijing Accounts Amid Censorship Spat

China has urged Twitter to remove accounts that smear China after the social media giant shut down some 170,000 pages tied to the regime in Beijing.

At a Friday press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying criticized Twitter for the action and maintained that China was a victim, rather than an instigator, of online disinformation campaigns, Reuters reported.

Hua told reporters that Twitter should address anti-Chinese accounts if it was serious about dealing with disinformation on its platforms. She also claimed that many platforms allowed falsehoods about China and that there was a clear need for objective Chinese voices.

China tightly controls internet access, and Twitter—along with Facebook, Instagram and others—is banned inside the country. Nonetheless, Twitter said Thursday that Beijing had been running an online influence operation with more than 170,000 accounts.

A core of 23,750 accounts were responsible for most of the content, their posts amplified by the remaining 150,000, Twitter said in a statement.

The network spread "geopolitical narratives favourable" to the Chinese Communist Party, the statement said, including "deceptive narratives" about Hong Kong where Beijing is trying to suppress a pro-democracy movement, the coronavirus pandemic for which China is trying to dodge the blame, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and Taiwan.

But despite the scale of the operation, Twitter said the network "failed to achieve considerable traction" and relied on accounts with a low number of followers and a low rate of engagement.

The accounts removed were linked to another Beijing-run disinformation network rolled up last year by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Then, many of the posts sought to malign the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

China is facing numerous allegations of disinformation around hot button issues like Hong Kong, Taiwan and coronavirus. Since the pandemic broke out, the U.S. and European Union have been critical of Beijing's efforts to control the narrative, prompting angry rebuttals from Chinese officials.

This week, the European Commission named China in a statement detailing plans to fight back against disinformation campaigns within the bloc.

Commission vice president for values and transparency Vera Jourova told reporters, "If we have evidence, we should not shy away from naming and shaming... We have witnessed a lot of accusations that the coronavirus has been developed in U.S. laboratories, and also the overselling of the support from China in the EU

China's mission to the EU rejected the bloc's assertion that Beijing is peddling disinformation. Spokesperson Zhang Ming said China has no interest in any "battle of narratives" and stressed Beijing's desire for collaboration rather than confrontation with the EU.

Twitter, China, disinformation, coronavirus, removed, accounts, censorship
This file photo shows the Twitter logo displayed on the screen of a smartphone on December 26, 2019 in Paris. Chesnot/Getty Images/Getty