At least a dozen fake Twitter accounts dedicated to posting positive news about Tibet and Xinjiang in London have been suspended after they were uncovered by a Tibetan advocacy group.
London-based Free Tibet has called out about 100 fake Twitter profiles that appear to exist solely for the purpose of posting sunny depictions of life in Tibet and Xinjiang, regions where Beijing has attracted international criticism for exerting control over minority groups. Most of the accounts were promptly suspended after the New York Times published a report on the fake bloggers.
The accounts haven’t been definitively linked to Beijing, but they echo the government’s talking points on the regions. Since Twitter is blocked in China, the messages seem to be specifically aimed at influencing Western social media users, using Western names, stock photos, and images of attractive models and actors. “We think we’ve uncovered the tip of an iceberg of China propaganda on Twitter, ” said Free Tibet spokesman Alistair Currie.
The account of Tomhugo148, for example, features a profile photo of a shirtless man with washboard abs and tweets articles and videos of Tibetans living happily under Beijing’s rule of their region. In reality, more than 100 Tibetans have lit themselves on fire to protest the Chinese government since 2009.
The accounts post links to English-language articles from Chinese state media like this one that highlights “the Chinese government pouring funds into improving local livelihoods” in Xinjiang. “Tom Hugo”—his photo actually belongs to a Brazilian model named Felipe Berto—describes the Dalai Lama as a “chess piece.”
In China, most Weibo accounts (the Chinese microblogging equivalent of Twitter) belonging to Tibetan activists have been blocked. A Tibetan writer, Tsering Woeser, was placed under house arrest earlier this month. One blogger on Weibo, who identifies himself as a Tibetan writer and has pledged support for the Dalai Lama on his profile page, appears to have his posts deleted pretty often: