from the not-helping dept
So we’ve noted that a lot of the accusations that Huawei spies on Americans on behalf of the US government are lacking in the evidence department. The company’s been on the receiving end of a global blocklist based on accusations that have never actually been proven publicly, levied by a country (the United States) with a long, long history of doing exactly what it accuses Huawei of doing. While scrutiny of Chinese gear is certainly warranted, at the same time it’s a rather idiotic rabbit hole filled with xenophobic politicians being played by US companies that like to drum up NatSec hysteria for political advantage.
That of course doesn’t mean Huawei, like so many telecom giants, isn’t a terrible company that routinely makes unethical decisions. Like when the company was busted helping several different African governments to spy on political opponents and journalists. Or when it was shown to be eagerly helping China build facial identification systems to quickly identify Uighur Muslims. Or, more recently, when the company was busted creating entirely fake people in a ham-fisted bid to try and boost its reputation.
Last week, the company was busted for creating at least fourteen different Twitter accounts pretending to be respected telecommunications experts, writers, and assorted academics. Their goal, to cast doubt on Belgian legislation attempting to limit “high risk” vendors from building the nation’s 5G networks. The bogus, pro-Huawei accounts used computer generated profile pictures. Their Tweets were then amplified by official, and real, Huawei executives:
“Kevin Liu, Huawei?s president for public affairs and communications in Western Europe, who has a verified Twitter account with 1.1 million followers, shared 60 posts from the fake accounts over three weeks in December, according to Graphika. Huawei?s official account in Europe, with more than five million followers, did so 47 times.”
To be clear, creating fake people to generate fake support for various policy proposals certainly isn’t unique. US companies do it fairly routinely to generate fake buzz and shape the discourse on social media platforms. Fake people were used to applaud the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality at the telecom industry’s behest just a few years back. Chinese Pro-Trump media outlet, The Epoch Times, was also busted using bogus people to push conspiracy theories the last few years.
It’s quite the blossoming little business sector. One recent report out of Oxford identified 63 examples in which public relations firms were involved in online disinformation operations in 2020 for government or corporate clients. In this case, Twitter took down the fourteen fake accounts immediately after being notified by the New York Times. Graphika, the company that first unearthed the astroturf effort, connected the dots after it noticed that several accounts used in previous campaigns began sharing pro-Huawei arguments and attacking Belgium’s regulatory approach.
A common practice or not, it’s monumentally idiotic to think that the best way to show you’re trustworthy as an international telecom vendor is to create fake people to make your case for you. Then, apparently, assume you were being so clever that nobody would ever discover the charade. But again, much like spying on your own citizens at the behalf of government, it’s something companies like AT&T also engage in, which undermines any serious attempt by the US to hold the moral high ground.