People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013..
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
Dozens of Twitter accounts associated with a Chinese Christian sect that believes a Chinese woman living in New York is the reincarnation of Jesus were suspended after amplifying political messages for Israeli right-wing politicians, according to BuzzFeed News.
The Church of Almighty God’s (CAG) core belief is that Yang Xiangbin – the wife of the founder of CAG – is the female incarnation of Christ. Xiangbin lives in Queens after being granted asylum in 2001 because of persecution in China. CAG followers believe that her word is the word of God.
“They have their own narrative for how the apocalypse is going to happen, and they have their own scripture. They don’t see the Bible as the literal word of God but as a human document that has flaws in its teaching,” Holly Folk, an associate professor at Western Washington University who has been studying the CAG since 2016, told BuzzFeed News. “The literal word of God is the recorded recitations of Almighty God, their leader who lives in Flushing, Queens.”
The Chinese government has banned CAG, labeling it an “evil cult” and has put CAG members on trial multiple times. In one case, CAG members were accused of committing a murder in a Chinese McDonald’s as part of their missionary activity.
Members have sought asylum throughout the world and have established an online presence in multiple languages and locations. Some of the active and suspended CAG accounts in Hebrew, which were reviewed, were sharing religious images and messages which were the same as other posts in other languages. This seems to indicate the existence of a central operation that releases images and messages for translation and distribution.
In general, the group doesn’t use political messages, according to Folk.
It’s unknown why these accounts have added political messaging to their activity, but this is likely why they were reported to Twitter during the Israeli elections.
BuzzFeed News did not identify any Hebrew-language CAG accounts spreading false or misleading information. The online activity is probably not state-linked.
The Chinese government has, however, used propaganda and impersonation to attack the group. “Part of the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine this group has sometimes been to create alternative and fake websites,” Folk said.
“In the UK, there was a separate CAG that was doing demonstrations and having photos [taken] and posting the photos online,” Folk said. “Those photos were then being used in website articles as part of a disinformation campaign.”
Twitter is still suspending Hebrew-language CAG accounts long after it was notified about their activity. At least one account is still active that was created after the initial suspensions. The account has amplified messages from Blue and White head Benny Gantz.
The accounts were found when hundreds of Twitter accounts were flagged as suspicious based on work done by Noam Rotem and Yuval Adam, Israeli researchers who study social media manipulation. Other volunteer hacktivists did a more in-depth analysis of the profiles to determine who was responsible for coordinating the accounts’ activities.
The accounts were flagged because they appeared to be coordinating an amplification of content, according to a source who is familiar with how the accounts were flagged and who talked with BuzzFeed News. Twitter would not comment on how or why the accounts were flagged.
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