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By WSJ Staff
China's government pushed back against moves by Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. to curb accounts the companies said were part of a state-sponsored disinformation campaign against Hong Kong protesters, saying the posts were simply Chinese citizens overseas expressing their views.
These citizens, including students, "have the rights to express their opinions and viewpoints," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said a regularly schedule press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
China has been closely monitoring political unrest in Hong Kong where pro-democracy protesters have demonstrated for more than two months after Hong Kong's government introduced a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The Hong Kong government in June shelved the bill but protesters have persisted, demanding the bill be dropped, an inquiry into police conduct against protesters and other requests. China has repeatedly criticized the protestsand suggested it could deploy its own security forces, and even its military, to restore order in the semiautonomous Chinese city if local officials can't manage it themselves.
Twitter on Monday said it took down 936 accounts linked to a "significant state-backed information operation" originating in China. "These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground," Twitter wrote in a blog post.
Facebook said that following a tip from Twitter, it removed five accounts along with seven pages, with a reach of more than 15,000 accounts, as well as three groups that included more than 2,000 members. "Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government," Facebook said on Monday.
China's government blocks access to Facebook and Twitter within its borders. Twitter said some of the Chinese accounts were using unblocked internet addresses originating in China, a sign that they were likely operating with the permission of the Chinese government, according to security experts.
Hong Kong is formally under Chinese control, but its citizens enjoy greater social freedoms than in mainland China.
Twitter this week also announced it would stop running advertising from Chinese state media and that it had removed at least one widely circulated advertisement by state-run Xinhua News Agency that criticized the protest movement. Mr. Geng said it made sense for Chinese news outlets to use foreign social media to circulate their reporting.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 20, 2019 18:27 ET (22:27 GMT)
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