A screen grab of a since-suspended Twitter account that Free Tibet identified as fake.
Twitter Acts Quickly on Suspect Pro-China Accounts
  • Tue, 07/22/2014 - 18:46

By ANDREW JACOBS
July 22, 2014 7:05 am

Talk about prompt customer service.

Just hours after The New York Times posted an article about bogus Twitter accounts dedicated to spreading pro-China propaganda — and a Tibetan advocacy group demanded that the company take action — Twitter appears to have hit the kill switch on a score of the suspect accounts.

By late Monday night, the accounts of Tom Hugo, Felix James, Alayna Newark and a number of other comely, if oddly named, supporters of China’s contentious ethnic minority policies had been suspended.

About 100 of the accounts that the organization Free Tibet had identified as a sham shared a few common traits: Their creators “borrowed” photographs of models, actors or American high school students from the Internet and then combined them with vaguely Anglo-Saxon-sounding names.

With few exceptions, the accounts tweeted only content from propaganda websites devoted to positive stories about Tibet and Xinjiang, the region in China’s far west whose native inhabitants, the Uighurs, are, like the Tibetans, increasingly unhappy with Beijing’s governance. The sites, such as Show China, publish in a number of foreign languages, although English appears to be their strong suit.

Although Tom Hugo's Twitter account, seen in a screen grab, has been taken down, his YouTube channel survives, for now.

Although Tom Hugo’s Twitter account, seen in a screen grab, has been taken down, his YouTube channel survives, for now.

Alistair Currie, the media manager for Free Tibet, said the organization was pleased that Twitter had acted so quickly. But he said that a number of dodgy accounts had survived, including that of Ken Peters, a vehement critic of the Dalai Lama who enjoys more than 2,000 followers, and Shelley John, who has a soft spot for traditional Tibetan hair braiding but appears to have fewer than 20 followers.

Mr. Currie said the organization, which is based in London, was still working to identify other fake accounts and would press Twitter to delete them.

“It looks like they took down the obvious ones that used two first names, but the bigger question is what action Twitter is going to take to prevent this from happening in the future,” Mr. Currie said in a telephone interview.

Although the unidentified pro-Beijing propagandists who created the accounts have taken a hit, it would seem that all is not lost for them. It turns out that Tom Hugo and his attractive friends were not one-dimensional characters. In fact, Mr. Hugo and several other of the vanished Twitter users also maintain YouTube channels (see here and here), which, at the moment, are still up and running.

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