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Internet users looking for information on Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s arrest will find another roadblock put in their way, after attacks on major websites and censoring of text messaging services. This time, Chinese hackers have set their sights on an international information outlet — Twitter. Ai Weiwei-related hashtags are now being spammed by Chinese-language bots.
Hashtags sort information on Twitter by aggregating every update that includes certain words, marked by a # character. The #aiweiwei hashtag was previously a good source of information on Ai’s arrest over two weeks ago, but it has been rendered almost useless (particularly during daytime in China) by Chinese spam bots. A search for #aiweiwei now yields only 3 real updates for the first 20 results. The rest are spam messages in Chinese, posted by avatar-less users named @pobimingfeijin and @hei5shan5laoyao.
The spam Twitter feeds target the #aiweiwei hashtag as well as #freeaiww, #freeaiweiwei and #tiananmen89[, referring to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Yet the tweets clearly have nothing to do with any of these tags. The tweets deal with Chinese internet jokes, aphorisms and off color one-liners, many of which border on the risque. A few read:
1. The sweetest kind of milk: a mistress. [Milk is the same character sometimes used for “woman,” and mistress literally translates as “second woman.”]
2. The world’s most beautiful song: Viagra. [The character for song, “ge” is the same sound as the second character of Viagra “Wei Ge.”]
3. The era of overstatement: any building over three stories is called “mansion.” [“Mansion” is a word that often brands tall buildings in Chinese cities, as “Tower” would in the US.]
Funny, huh? Except for those of us trying to communicate over Twitter. Twitter isn’t as big in China as Sina Weibo is, but a large number of in-the-know Chinese cultural figures and netizens use the service. It remains to be seen if Twitter can do anything about the spam.
Previously, Chinese hackers attacked Change.org, a site hosting a major petition led by the Guggenheim museum calling for Ai’s arrest that has gained over 90,000 signatures. It’s important to remember that we really have no idea where the hackers and spammers are coming from or who they are affiliated with, save that they’re in China. The government may have mandated the attacks or it may just be Chinese netizens angry at the US for speaking out against Ai’s arrest.
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