It’s far too early to say what this means, but it’s unusual activity so it’s worth acknowledging.
There have been a few cases of what look to be Chinese accounts mass following or mass tweeting the Twitter accounts of foreigners.
Social media trolls and partisans are prolific in China, and in Taiwan – which of course China regards as its own.
But these cases are notable because they reach outside of the Chinese language sphere.
Last year Australian freelance journalist and communications professional Asher Wolf wrote that she “got flooded by a bunch of Chinese bots tweeting at me in Mandarin.”
Some tweets seemed to be about Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, the billionaire Chinese businessman who has fallen afoul of the CCP and lives in the US.
Wolf had also recently published an opinion piece about Australia’s foreign donation legislation, China and the U.S.
Here is an example:
But there have been some more recent examples outside of China’s periphery, as well.
Over in Canada, Aaron Wytze notes that Hong Kong-watchers are being mass followed.
UK-based Daniel Tudor, whose account identifies him an author of books on Korea, has also posted that he had seen an uptick.
Clearly, in these cases, the connection may be the targeted account holders’ interest in matters that concern China. Wytze’s Twitter profile says he “writes about the intersection of tech and politics in East Asia” and edits the Taiwan Gazette.
If these Twitter follows are a prelude to broader strategy to shape global perceptions around sensitive matters for the Chinese Communist Party, don’t be surprised.
This is the nature of information security from an authoritarian nation.
“Control of information has been central to the Party’s strategy since it first came to power,” writes Shanthi Kalathil of the Center for International Media Assistance.
In a time of globalization and the internet, it’s perhaps inevitable this desire to control would flow to where the discussion is occurring – even if overseas by non-Chinese, and non-ethnic Chinese people.
Of course, that intention collides headlong into democratic notions of freedom of expression and freedom of thought in many Western nations.