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Targeting Xinjiang?

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Is Harry Potter’s Ginny Weasley tweeting you about how great life is in China’s western region of Xinjiang? She might be a bot

It looks like there’s another Twitter bot campaign in the making, but it’s not targeting US elections this time. Instead, it’s primarily focused on the region of Xinjiang in western China, where UN experts say that over a million people are being held in detention camps.

A researcher from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says she found a “massive spambot network in the making” that’s trying to influence Twitter discussions on the issue. And strangely, they appear inclined to represent themselves as celebrities.

The accounts discovered last week have surfaced at a crucial time for China. On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the US administration to identify and sanction officials responsible for the mass internment of Uygurs and other members of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang autonomous region.

Beijing opposes the bill and says the camps exist to prevent terrorism and separatism.

Twitter is no stranger to pro-Beijing campaigns on its platform. In August, Twitter suspended 936 accounts originating from China for what it said was a “coordinated state-backed operation” to sow political discord in Hong Kong. The social network shared a list of the accounts, saying it represents the most active portion of a larger “spammy network” of 200,000 accounts sharing content against the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The other accounts were suspended before they were substantially active, Twitter said.

But unlike the Hong Kong campaign, the newly discovered accounts were created this year rather than having been repurposed. Earlier research from the ASPI on anti-protest bots showed that many of the accounts have been around for years, sometimes tweeting about things completely unrelated to China, like bacon, K-pop and hot tubs.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new accounts is that they seem to have a thing for Western celebrities. Many of the more than 375 accounts use profile pictures of actresses like Kiera Knightley and Bonnie Wright, known for starring as Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter.

It’s part of the reason why the accounts weren’t hard to spot. They were identified based on a combination of their attributes and their behavior, ASPI researcher Elise Thomas told Abacus. In addition to pictures of celebrities, things like consistent naming patterns, tweeting random quotes or saying hello to themselves are all signs that the person retweeting you might not be real.

Compulsively sharing quotes from Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be another sign of a potential bot. (Picture: Screenshot from Twitter)

Another dead giveaway? These new accounts seem obsessed with retweeting the Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times, which has been using Twitter to staunchly deny abuses in Xinjiang.

The media outlet rose to prominence in China for its nationalist views and sharp attacks on critics of the Chinese government. Recent articles have accused scholars researching Xinjiang of working for US intelligence agencies and called reporters liars. The website has also been sharing glowing reports of life in the autonomous region under the Communist Party.

Global Times also sought to amplify its message through legitimate means by paying for ads. In June and August, Twitter had more than 50 promoted tweets from the media outlet, an investigation from The Intercept showed. As part of its wide sweep of pro-Beijing bots in August, Twitter said that it would no longer accept advertising from state-controlled media.

We reached out to the Global Times but didn’t receive a response.

So far, the origin of the accounts discovered by ASPI is unknown, and there’s no evidence that the campaign was state-sponsored. It also appears that their activity has been limited and they haven’t picked up a large number of followers.

In addition to the Global Times, the accounts have been sharing posts from other Chinese state media outlets, as well as statements from Chinese government bodies and diplomats. The Hong Kong protests were another favorite topic for the accounts.

Some of the accounts highlighted by ASPI’s Thomas seem to have already been removed. In response to our inquiry, Twitter said it takes action against millions of accounts each week for violating policies in this area.

“Improving the collective health of public conversation is a top priority for our company,” the company said in a statement. “Platform manipulation, including spam and other attempts to undermine the public conversation, is a clear violation of the Twitter Rules.”

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Twitter Said to Be Planning Bitcoin Payments as Tips on Its Platform

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Twitter is considering a feature that would allow users to tip one another – in Bitcoins though.

The Information reports that the micro-blogging platform is working on implementing a new payment feature to let people send money to each other.

It is not yet clear whether the Twitter tipping feature would integrate with Jack Dorsey’s other company, Square, which is a financial services, merchant services aggregator, and mobile payment company based in San Francisco.

Dorsey has made absolutely no secret of his love of Bitcoin over the years.

NewsBTC has reported on the Twitter CEO opining that Bitcoin will one day be the currency of the internet and his company Square integrating cryptocurrency payments.

“Dorsey has been a major investor in the Bitcoin micropayments solution Lightning Network,” said the report.

Dorsey will move to Africa for three-six months this year to “define the future”.

“Sad to be leaving the continent for now. Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid-2020. Grateful I was able to experience a small part,” said the Twitter CEO.

Dorsey has also hired Bitcoin developers for his payments company.

He is an advocate of digital currency bitcoin but he also says it is “not functional as a currency”.

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Twitter System ‘Outage’ Briefly Blocked Trump Whistleblower Tweet

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A tweet from US President Donald Trump that identified an intelligence analyst as the alleged whistleblower who helped spark his impeachment was temporarily blocked at the weekend, with Twitter blaming an outage that affected a number of user accounts. In recent days, Trump shared an unsubstantiated media report and a second post that appeared to name the intelligence community member.

However, the second tweet, from the president’s personal account, was not visible on Saturday to all of his 68 million followers. It was visible again on Sunday afternoon, although the original account that shared the alleged whistleblower’s name had been deleted.

“Due to an outage with one of our systems, tweets on account profiles were visible to some, but not others,” Twitter Support said. “We’re still working on fixing this and apologise for any confusion.” A spokeswoman for the social media platform confirmed that the US president’s account was among those affected.

The spokeswoman added that, per Twitter policy, any tweets that included private information about an individual, including the alleged whistleblower, would be in violation of its rules. Names are not considered private information, she said.

Democrats, some Republicans, and members of the US intelligence community have strongly objected to the effort to reveal the whistleblower’s identify, calling it inappropriate and possibly illegal.

Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s lawyers, said on Twitter in early November that Republicans had “sought to expose our client’s identity which could jeopardise their safety, as well as that of their family.”

Other Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr, have previously shared links on Twitter to articles from right-wing news outlets identifying what they claimed was the likely whistleblower. However, Thursday marked the first time the president had done so, when he retweeted a link to a Washington Examiner article.

On Friday, Trump retweeted a post from a pro-Trump account that featured the same name prominently, and that has also shared photos of a person who it alleged was the whistleblower.

That retweet briefly disappeared from Trump’s Twitter account on Saturday, reported the Washington Post, CNN, and other media.

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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Twitter Adds Support for iPhone’s Live Photos, Will Now Preserve Image Quality for Uploads on Web

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Twitter announced earlier this year that it is planning on adding support for Apple’s Live Photos feature on iOS devices while everyone was looking for a simple edit button for tweets. Now, four years after Apple launched the feature on iOS devices, Twitter has added support for Live Photos. The social networking giant announced the new feature for iPhone users on Wednesday. Live Photos will be converted to GIFs when they’re shared on Twitter.

Apple’s Live Photos feature lets iOS users capture very short videos while taking a photo. Users who tried to share Live Photos on Twitter, until now, would end up with a still photo. Users could convert their Live Photos to GIF using a third-party app and then share them on Twitter.

Twitter’s support for Live Photos will now eliminate the need for using a third-party application. Users can directly share their Live Photos and they’ll be automatically converted to GIFs.

To use the new feature, Twitter users need to use the company’s iOS app. While posting a new tweet, users can select a Live Photo from their camera roll, select the GIF button on the left corner of the compose window, add relevant text, and that’s it.

Separately, Twitter will now preserve JPEG image quality for all photo uploads on Twitter for Web. The social networking company will still compress the thumbnails that users see on their timeline. However, when users click on the thumbnail to see the full image, it’ll be presented in high resolution. Twitter engineer Nolan O’Brien announced via a tweet. The company will still strip EXIF data from the images.

O’Brien further clarified that the company will continue to impose limits for images, but those will remain ‘very generous’. He says users will be able to share images up to 16-megapixels which will be preserved in original quality.

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