Twitter mistakenly filtered accounts of Chinese activists: NYT

  • More than 30 prominent human rights activists in China had their accounts hidden in searches, according to the NYT.
  • Twitter’s automated filter for spam and misinformation wrongly restricted activists, the Times said.
  • Twitter’s staff has been cut by about two-thirds since Elon Musk took over last October.

Twitter mistakenly filtered the accounts of several Chinese human rights activists after the company’s Asia office saw its workforce reduced amid global staffing cuts, The New York Times reported.

The accounts of more than 30 prominent Chinese dissidents and activists were not immediately visible when searched, the Times said, citing interviews and screenshots as well as data from Shadow Bird, a website that analyzes whether accounts are subject to search blocks. .

Three activists, who were not identified, told the newspaper that they were suspended without notice and only reinstated after appeal.

Activists include the likes of Bao Pu, an activist who gained a following by tweeting videos of protests against China’s zero-COVID protocol, the Times said. An account in Bao’s name has around 30,000 followers as of Wednesday, Insider found.

Twitter is banned in China, but it has become a hot spot for activists and dissidents in the country. In December, China announced a series of policy changes as it rolled back its controversial zero-COVID restrictions that sparked nationwide protests.

President Xi Jinping introduced the policy aimed not only at containing the virus, but at completely eradicating it – resulting in strict lockdowns where some people were locked indoors for extended periods.

While activists took to Elon Musk’s platform to speak out against such lockdowns, it now appears that many of them have been banned. This involves making accounts harder to find and limiting the reach of their posts.

So-called shadowbans have been a hot topic since the Musk takeover. He investigated some apparent shadowbans on his first day in office after several conservative figures urged him to drop restrictions on his accounts imposed by Twitter’s previous management.

In the “Twitter Archives” – a series of reports on the platform’s past workings revealed by independent journalists with special access to internal documents – shadowbanning was also a hot topic of debate.

Twitter’s automated system designed to filter out government spam and disinformation campaigns also wrongly restricted Chinese activists, four people with knowledge of the system told the Times.

Musk has introduced dramatic cost-cutting measures since taking over Twitter, with the number of employees reduced by more than two-thirds, from more than 7,000 to around 2,300.

In January, Insider’s Kali Hays reported that its Asian headquarters in Singapore had been briefly closed due to non-payment of rent, before Musk finally made a late payment.

The Times reports that the number of employees on a team that once dealt with errors related to Twitter’s filtering has dropped from about 50 to less than 10 since Musk’s acquisition. The Times also reports that Twitter’s top employee in the Asia-Pacific region, who oversaw the management of accounts for Chinese activists, was fired earlier this year.

Offices in Hong Kong and the Philippines are being closed, with plans to close the South Korea office as well, Insider previously reported.

Twitter did not immediately respond to the Insider’s request for comment.

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