Home / Tech / A 24-year-old student in London was left baffled after being caught up in Twitter's purge of Chinese propaganda accounts

A 24-year-old student in London was left baffled after being caught up in Twitter's purge of Chinese propaganda accounts

Hong Kong protesters

  • Twitter on Monday released a list of 936 accounts which it had identified as being part of a China-backed propaganda effort targeting protesters in Hong Kong.
  • An account belonging to Luka Ivezic, a 24-year-old student in London, was also on the list — much to his surprise.
  • After the BBC reported this, Twitter took his name off the list to protect his privacy, but maintained that the account had been “compromised” and connected to the propagandist disinformation network.
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Luka Ivezic, a Croatia-born student studying misinformation at King’s College London, was surprised to learn Twitter had designated his Twitter account as being part of a Chinese propaganda campaign.

Twitter and Facebook announced on Monday that they had detected a coordinated social media propaganda campaign from China targeting protesters in Hong Kong. Twitter said that the evidence pointed towards a “state-backed operation,” consisting of 936 accounts, which it suspended.

One of the suspended accounts listed was 24-year-old Ivezic’s, with the handle @TechPoliticist. “It is a bit ironic that something like this would happen to me,” Ivezic told the BBC in a nod to his studies at King’s College. Ivezic said he has never been to China.

Searching for Ivezic's account shows it has been suspended.

Ivezic’s father Marin, a cybersecurity consultant, expressed equal bafflement, telling the BBC that the account was suspended in May, before the protests kicked off in earnest.

Read more: Twitter ran paid ads from China’s state news media criticizing the Hong Kong protests

Twitter told the BBC that it would remove Ivezic’s account from its disclosure to protect his privacy, but affirmed that it had correctly identified his account as part of the propaganda push.

“After further investigation with our team, we’ve confirmed [the account was] compromised and tied to the disinformation network noted in yesterday’s disclosure,” said a spokesperson.

A possible explanation is that Marin Ivezic paid a “social media freelancer” to buy up followers for his and his son’s Twitter accounts to boost their presence. Father and son run a blog together called the Future of Leadership, the Twitter account for which was also suspended — although not listed as part of the propaganda campaign.

Twitter bans users from buying up followers, not only because it artificially inflates their reach but also because the purchased accounts are often bots or spam accounts, which the platform actively tries to expunge.

Elise Thomas, an expert at Australia’s International Cyber Policy Centre, told the BBC that Twitter may have been overzealous in reacting to the propaganda campaign.

Ivezic and Twitter did not immediately reply to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

SEE ALSO: Alibaba reportedly postpones its rumored $20 billion listing amid Hong Kong unrest

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