Facebook has said it decided to take down accounts related to the Hong Kong protests because they were associated with the Chinese government, rather than over the content they posted.
A spokesman for the company said Facebook had used a mix of technology and investigative work to determine the accounts were associated with the Chinese government, and were using deceptive tactics - including the use of fake accounts to disseminate content - in a coordinated effort.
"We're constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," the spokesman said. "We've taken down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted.
"As with all of these take downs, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action."
Facebook on Monday removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts involved in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong".
Examples of the "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" identified by Facebook included posts that compared protesters to cockroaches, accused journalists of corruption and of colluding with "rioters", and claimed that protesters, not police, had been responsible for the widely reported injury of a woman who may lose the use of one eye.
On the same day, Twitter said it had suspended 936 accounts originating from within China for a number of violations of the company's "platform manipulation policies," including spam, coordinated activity, fake accounts and ban evasion.
When asked to clarify how its probe had ascertained a connection to the Chinese government, a spokeswoman for Twitter referred to the investigation's findings that some of the accounts had been gaining access to Twitter without the use of VPNs.
Among these 936 accounts, 59 per cent of them had fewer than 1,000 followers, and 10.7 per cent had zero followers. Some 20 per cent of them self-reported as being from the United States, and 66.7 per cent set their account language to Chinese. Some 44.5 per cent of the accounts were set up in 2017, followed by 2009 and 2016 (both 8 per cent).
The Chinese government has not commented on the decisions of Twitter and Facebook, but some mainland internet users said the move showed the US was stirring up trouble.
Victor Shih, a professor at University of California San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy, said the social media companies had stepped up efforts since the 2016 US presidential election.
"China is copying Russia and has set up a large number of accounts on Facebook and Twitter to pump out anti-protester propaganda filled with factually untrue statements and pictures," he said. "(Such accounts are) an attempt to polarise opinion, which Twitter and Facebook have publicly stated they don't want to do, so they are acting on their new policies."
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