Stories of Twitter (along with other social media giants) clamping down on user accounts that paint the Chinese Communist Party in a negative light are as common as dirt these days. Many reports detailing the close financial ties between China and these companies have emerged, suggesting that there may be something beyond “fairness” or “abuse” at play here. But is that really the case? I find myself wondering after reading a recent report of a New Zealand foreign policy expert who wound up having her account “flagged.”
Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury, is an authority on the Chinese regime and the way it projects its influence around the world. During the country’s recent celebration of the centennial of the CCP’s rule, Brady sent out some tweets poking fun at Chinese President Xi Jinping. A short time later, she learned that some of those tweets had been tagged with the usual “unavailable” flag, with a link to Twitter’s policies regarding questionable content. After complaints were raised by some journalists, Brady’s account was restored, but Twitter insisted that it “values free speech” and the suspension had been prompted by “unusual activity” on the account. So was this intentional censorship of anti-CCP content or some automated algorithm flub? Edward Lucas, a journalist for the Times of Britain and one of the people defending Brady, thinks he knows how it happened. (Associated Press)
Edward Lucas, a columnist for The Times newspaper in Britain, wrote that it probably resulted from an online campaign of complaints by Communist Party agents which would have triggered an automatic response from Twitter while it investigated.
“After I had stoked a furor on Twitter and sent umpteen complaints, her account was restored,” Lucas wrote. “Less prominent victims of Chinese censorship would have scantier chances of redress.”
Brady tweeted her thanks to Lucas, saying that she’d been unable to get a reply from Twitter herself.
“Seems like @Twitter may have briefly forgotten they don’t work for Xi Jinping,” Brady wrote.
This actually makes a lot of sense. If Twitter receives a “significant” number of complaints about an account, that account can be automatically flagged and/or suspended until someone looks into it. Twitter confirmed that this happens and they sometimes need to contact the user to confirm the activity. (How fast you might be contacted, if at all, probably depends on how many followers you have or how many blue checks raise a stink over the suspension.) The CCP seems to have its own army of bot accounts that will flood Twitter with complaints if they notice someone discussing the party or Xi Jinping unfavorably.
This is basically just gangstalking and using Twitter’s algorithms for the gang’s own purposes. It’s not all that different from the army of liberal users on Twitter that try to engage in “ratioing” conservatives they disagree with if the conservative says anything about a liberal media personality. The difference here is that instead of trying to flood the person’s mentions column, they instead flood Twitter’s complaint system, triggering the ban hammer.
So what were the offensive things that Ms. Brady tweeted to incur the wrath of the CCP?
In one tweet, Brady suggested an alternative headline for a news article about the celebrations: “Xi: its my Party and I’ll cry if I want to,” she wrote.
Really? That’s what brought on the mob? I tweet five things meaner than that before breakfast every day.
While not definitive, I decided to run a brief experiment to test this theory. After learning of Brady’s story, I tweeted the following about Xi Jinping and even made sure to include his name as a hashtag.
Chinese President #XiJinping is engaging in genocide against the Uyghurs and stonewalling the research into the origins of the pandemic.
— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) July 6, 2021
I checked with other users and kept an eye on the tweet until the evening it was never flagged. Now, part of the reason for that may be that I don’t have a sufficiently large army of followers to draw attention to it, but if this were some sort of automated filter that Twitter slipped in under the covers it should have caught that one, right? So while I still don’t trust Twitter’s dedication to free speech as far as I could throw one of their server farms, I’m leaning toward believing that this really is just a case of CCP gangstalking.