Chinese bots spammed Twitter with porn, which buried news about COVID-19 protests in China, report says

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Chinese bots spammed Twitter with porn, which buried news about COVID-19 protests in China, report says
Chinese-language accounts flooded Twitter with spam, per a report.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
  • Chinese bot accounts posted spam, which buried news about COVID protests, per the Washington Post.
  • Twitter was aware of the issue by noon and started addressing the issue, the Post reported.
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Chinese bots on Twitter on Sunday began posting spam, which researchers said aimed to bury news about anti-lockdown protests, the Washington Post reported.

Several previously dormant Chinese-language accounts started flooding the platform with spam, including porn, per the publication.

Many posts from the accounts, which, according to the Post, were suspected to be linked to the government, contained URLs for escort websites and adult content alongside city names. This served to restrict information about protests against China's zero-COVID policies, the Post reported.

A Twitter employee told a researcher that the company was aware of the problem by midday Sunday and seeking to address it. A US government contractor told the Post that by the evening, the feed was "fifty percent porn, 50 percent protests."

Protests have been erupting across China to express opposition to its lockdown policies. Some of the protests in the region of Xinjiang began after 10 people died in a fire.

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As Insider reported, people online said the trucks were blocked from fighting the fire by virus-control barriers or cars deserted by infected or quarantined drivers. City officials rejected the claim, however.

Mengyu Dong, a journalist whose work has focused on tech and censorship, tweeted on Sunday: "Chinese bots are flooding Twitter with *escort ads*, possibly to make it more difficult for Chinese users to access information about the mass protests. Some of these acts have been dormant for years, only to become active yesterday after protests broke out in China."

Twitter's trust and safety team is likely in disarray. Musk fired Twitter's head of legal, policy and trust, Vijaya Gadde, within the first day of his takeover, and Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of trust and safety, resigned on November 10. Other workers have also resigned from the team. Some remaining employees have staged a protest against Elon Musk's approach to safety on the platform.

Twitter did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, which was made outside of normal working hours.

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