Surge in Twitter Troll Accounts Spreading Malicious Content about Falun Gong
In recent months, the Falun Dafa Information Center has documented a concerning increase in troll accounts on Twitter dedicated to disseminating false content about Falun Gong, perpetuating Chinese Communist Party (CCP) narratives aimed at maligning and discouraging support for the spiritual practice. These inauthentic accounts play a role in the CCP’s global campaign of transnational repression against Falun Gong, which utilizes various tactics including influencing global media.
Between April and May, the Falun Dafa Information Center detected over 200 Twitter accounts dedicated to spreading negative content about Falun Gong. The center discovered these accounts after they actively targeted its tweets, flooding posts with malicious responses.
A cursory examination of the accounts clearly showed they were fake. In most cases, the accounts solely tweeted about Falun Gong and their following consisted of other accounts sharing the same content.
“We know the CCP employs hundreds of thousands of people to attack CCP critics online – an online group commonly called the “50 cent army,” says Executive Director Levi Browde. “The fact that they are increasing their presence and message on Twitter is significant because it shows they view social media as a viable space to influence public opinion on Falun Gong.”
These accounts employ a variety of tactics to influence public perceptions of Falun Gong online and present themselves as legitimate users.
The accounts repeat propaganda points used by the CCP as justification for its repression of Falun Gong, such as portraying practitioners as violent or suicidal. They tweet hundreds of illustrations that would each take hours to produce, suggesting there is significant manpower behind this effort. Some accounts even shared videos repeating these narratives.
Additionally, the accounts regularly respond to mentions of Falun Gong or the persecution, harassing supporters, and furthering the spread of their content.
While most of these accounts were created in recent months, some are shown to have joined Twitter as early as 2009. Most have little to no following, while certain ones have amassed a comparatively large following by sharing viral and prurient content. Some even masquerade as news outlets such as “News Wire” or “American political express” and disperse anti-Falun Gong content amidst posts about US or international politics.
Many of the accounts use Western sounding names and stolen photos or generic images in their profiles, possibly in an attempt to appeal to a Western audience or perhaps to give Chinese users outside of China (or users in China who have broken through China’s firewall) the impression that the Chinese government’s view of Falun Gong is shared around the world.
Even when using Western sounding names and non-Asian profile pictures, the majority of tweets from these accounts are in Chinese. When tweeting in English, the tweets are often awkwardly worded and repeated by the account.
The accounts regularly interact with each other, following, liking, or retweeting each other’s content, amplifying the impression of popularity. The accounts also frequently share the same graphics and even tweet the same replies from different accounts.
The Falun Dafa Information Center calls on disinformation researchers to further investigate these account networks and for Twitter and any other social media platforms where they appear to remove the accounts, as has been done in the past in other CCP-linked disinformation campaigns targeting persecuted communities. Additionally, preventative measures should be taken to prevent their re-emergence.
These accounts are part of a broad campaign of transnational repression against Falun Gong, ranging from media influence to physical violence. For further insights into the CCP’s transnational repression of Falun Gong, refer to Executive Director Levi Browde’s testimony to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and our recent report on the state of US university campuses.