Twitter’s China Problem Rears Its Head


The company suspended several accounts critical of Chinese Communist Party foreign-influence operations last week.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLETwitter has suspended several accounts operated by a Canadian publisher critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign-influence operations around the world.

Dean Baxendale, the president of Optimum Publishing International, told National Review that the company last Wednesday suspended six accounts affiliated with his business — Optimum’s main account and those promoting five of its books. Despite his repeated inquires, Twitter has not yet provided an explanation for the suspensions, Baxendale said.

The problem with the suspensions is simple. In one fell swoop, Twitter moved to suspend the accounts affiliated with some of Canada’s most prominent critics of China’s international political-manipulation campaigns. Though Twitter accounts for Baxendale and the authors he works with are still up, those promoting their books are no longer accessible; their pages are blank and display an “account suspended” message from Twitter.

One of the suspended accounts is Optimum’s profile for Hidden Hand, an international survey of Beijing’s cooptation of political elites around the globe. The present situation is not the first time that someone has tried to censor the book, which was written by Chinese-influence experts Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg. The Hidden Hand account had amassed a “following specifically around the book, and it was used to market and promote the book,” Baxendale said.

In July, Twitter took similar action against Anne-Marie Brady, an academic from New Zealand whose work on China’s United Front political-influence network is regarded as the best in the field.

Starting on July 4, she told NR at the time, Twitter suspended her account for about 18 hours with no explanation. “All I got from Twitter was a ‘Welcome Back’ message this morning when I opened my laptop, as if it was I who had left them,” she wrote in an email. “The tweet that got me suspended was a pun about Xi Jinping and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP and that follow up tweet to that, which linked to the song that inspired the pun.”

A Twitter spokesperson at the time claimed that “Twitter did not take any action against any of the Tweets made by the referenced account” and that the detection of “unusual activity” from accounts sometimes leads Twitter to add temporary notices “until we have confirmation from the account owner. In this case, the account in question has already been recovered.”

“I don’t know if the basis of the suspension was because elements wrote to Twitter requesting that this account be closed because it’s doing something illegal, or whether it’s their algorithm has somehow been programmed to suspend an account which has characteristics like those two,” said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at Canada’s Macdonald Laurier Institute who wrote the foreword to Hidden Hand and to another Optimum imprint, Wilful Blindness.

Burton said he was “puzzled” by the suspension, since Twitter doesn’t have a presence in China. “Of course, a lot of Chinese institutions use Twitter, particularly the Chinese foreign ministry and embassies abroad, even though the content would not be accessible within China.”

Twitter has a China problem, and whatever its eventual explanation for Optimum’s ban, that problem will persist as long as it continues to enable the Chinese Communist Party’s disinformation campaigns.