Twitter, American microblogging and social networking service, has removed more than 170,000 accounts it says were linked to an operation to spread pro-China messages.

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In a blog post on Thursday, the microblogging company said the accounts were found to be promoting the “deceptive” narratives about Hong Kong protests, COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death.

“Every account and piece of content associated with these operations has been permanently removed from the service,” it wrote.

“In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities. They were tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.”

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Twitter added that a “core network” of 23,750 highly active accounts had been deleted, along with another 150,000 referred to as “amplifier accounts”.

Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a group working with Twitter to analyse the accounts, revealed that the tweets were predominantly in Chinese languages.

To arrive at their findings, the group analysed 348,608 tweets between January 2018 and April 2020.

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They discovered that most of the tweets were posted during business hours in Beijing between Monday and Friday, and dropped off on the weekends.

“This activity largely targeted Chinese‑speaking audiences outside of the Chinese mainland (where Twitter is blocked) with the intention of influencing perceptions on key issues, including the Hong Kong protests, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and, to a lesser extent Covid‑19 and Taiwan,” the researchers said.

Twitter also announced that it had deleted accounts linked to Russia and Turkey. The social media company said it found more than 1,000 accounts that promoted the ruling United Russia party.

It added that a similar trend was discovered in Turkey where a network of 7,340 accounts posted content favourable to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’ party.

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The company said the deleted accounts would be posted to an archive where they would consequently be studied.

In its reaction, China’s ministry of foreign affairs condemned Twitter’s action, alleging such move was to “smear China’s” image.

“If Twitter really wants to do something they should shut those coordinated and organized accounts that attack and smear China,” CNN quoted Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the ministry, as saying on Friday.

“China is the largest victim of disinformation, [and] we are against the spreading of disinformation.”

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