The Epoch Times denies responsibility for fake Facebook accounts
Facebook recently concluded an investigation into two unconnected, networks of accounts that combined were responsible for almost 650 Facebook accounts and over 400 pages on the platform. Per Facebook, the first was “part of a domestic-focused network that originated in the country of Georgia,” while the second, the Beauty of Life (BL) network of accounts, caused much more of a stir.
Facebook took down “these Pages, Groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.” Basically, these accounts had created sock-puppet accounts that looked like real people, using AI-generated photos, etc.to drive traffic to BL pages. It was effective, it breached the terms of service, so the accounts were taken down. Facebook is clear that this is a terms of service issue, and not a content one.
However, NBC reported that “Facebook took down more than 600 accounts tied to the pro-Trump conspiracy website The Epoch Times for using identities created by artificial intelligence to push stories about a variety of topics including impeachment and elections.” This is misleading phrasing that correlates content to removal.
As part of its investigation, Facebook claims that it found links between BL and Epoch Media Group (EMG), which is the parent group of The Epoch Times. It is this affiliation that mainstream media outlets like NBC and NPR used to make the argument that there was a connection between The Epoch Times content and the removal of the BL network of accounts from Facebook.
The BL, or Beautiful Life network, operates primarily within the US, though it is based in Vietnam. During the course of its investigation, Facebook says it found ties between BL and the EMG, which operates The Epoch Times, among many other news media properties. BL shared The Epoch Times content, as so many other pages. Due to the perceived ties between BL and EMG, Facebook is now investigating the EMG.
EMG has stated that it is not linked to BL. Per a blog post from EMG, “The BL (BL) and its activities have been portrayed as being part of Epoch Media Group (EMG) and by extension The Epoch Times. This is categorically false. EMG has never been affiliated with BL and does not engage in or support the behavior BL is alleged to be involved in… The situation is complicated by the fact that BL is connected with the independent company Đại Kỷ Nguyên (Vietnamese Epoch Times, or VET), with which EMG was forced to cut ties in October 2018.”
Facebook and EMG are in disagreement over the connective tissue between the two networks. The founder of BL had once been employed by the EMG, and employees from Epoch Media came to work for BL. Prior to their leaving the employ of EMG, some of those individuals had been listed as Page admins for EMG Facebook Pages. There was a long lag in those former employees names being removed as admins on the EMG pages.
When asked about the perceived links between The BL and The Epoch Times, a Facebook company spokesperson told The Post Millennial “with all due respect to the publisher of The Epoch Times, he may not know executives at The BL were active admins on Epoch Media Group Pages as recently as this morning [December 20] when their accounts were deactivated and The BL was removed.”
Facebook’s reason for removing BL were that “The people behind this activity made widespread use of fake accounts—many of which had been automatically removed by our systems—to manage Pages and Groups, automate posting at very high frequencies and direct traffic to off-platform sites. Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join Groups and post the BL content. To evade our enforcement, they used a combination of fake and authentic accounts of local individuals in the US to manage Pages and Groups.”
They go on to say that “Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation linked this activity to Epoch Media Group, a US-based media organization, and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf. The BL-focused network repeatedly violated a number of our policies, including our policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior, spam and misrepresentation, to name just a few. The BL is now banned from Facebook. We are continuing to investigate all linked networks, and will take action as appropriate if we determine they are engaged in deceptive behavior.”
EMG believes that “The language used by Facebook is irresponsibly unclear. By saying that EMG is ‘linked’ to BL’s activity, Facebook suggests that EMG is responsible for BL’s activities or has coordinated with BL, without Facebook’s statement providing any evidence that this is so. Media outlets have then jumped on the hint Facebook has given, and reported EMG is guilty of activities it has had no part in.”
Facebook security is all about procedure, technical violations and terms of service breaches. They do not credit content, other than those that violate hate speech restrictions, etc., as a reason for removal. Yet NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navaro interviewed Snopes VP of Operations, Vinny Green, about their independent investigation into the link between BL and The Epoch Times.
Garcia-Navaro asks: “This investigation centers around a group called the BL, or Beauty of Life. And you found that it has extensive links to The Epoch Times. So remind us where The Epoch Times sort of lives in the media ecosystem.”
“Yeah. Well, it’s really far-reaching,” Green replied. “Not only do they have a print edition that distributes pretty widely, but they have a very dominant online presence. They’ve really—have established a vast multimedia, multiplatform distribution channel and artificially, through advertising, boost their prominence. And it—so it’s widely read and widely distributed. But it is this very fringe publication. And we’ve discovered that it’s got some other tentacles that are reaching out into the media landscape and—one of which was this vast network called the BL.”
“Yeah. I mean, their main page has more than 6 million followers on Facebook,” Garcia-Navaro chimed in, “and they have ties to the Falun Gong movement, which is a spiritual practice which the Chinese government calls a cult. And these fake pages and profiles had a lot of pro-Trump content but also anti-Chinese government, too. What were they pushing out?”
Snopes is primarily concerned with invalidating The Epoch Times, who it disparages for running content that supports President Trump. “What we saw was an extreme amount of pro-Trump content,” Green said. “Almost exclusively what we were looking at on the BL was the amplification of pro-Trump media… And that content plays well on Facebook.”
Garcia-Navaro noted that “Some people have called this sort of industrial-scale misinformation.”
However, the founding mission of The Epoch Times, founded in 2000, was “in response to communist repression and censorship in China.” The originators were “Chinese-Americans who themselves had fled communism, sought to create an independent media to bring the world uncensored and truthful information.” Part of their early work was in writing about the persecution faced by members of the Falun Gong religious sect, which Snopes additionally stigmatizes in repeating the Wall Street Journal reporting that “Beijing declared Falun Gong an evil cult and launched a brutal crackdown on its practitioners in China,” which Garcia-Navaro then echoed.
Snopes attempts to discredit The Epoch Times by trivializing its founding mission, and by using the Chinese government’s defining of a religious group as a cult, which has been persecuted by that same government, as evidence of wrongdoing by The Epoch Times.
To recap, The Epoch Times was founded to bring light to human rights abuses in China, many of which are undeniable. Because the outlet has reported favourably about the sitting American president, who is well derided in mainstream media, the Facebook investigation into their parent company’s link to a media outlet with improper account practices is now being used to discredit the validity of their content.
The Epoch Times is not free from run-ins with Facebook security. In July, The Epoch Times pages were barred from placing any further ads on the site. The ads The Epoch Times were running were primarily to drive subscribers to their print edition, and they spent a large sum of money doing this. After they were ad-banned, The Epoch Times tried to get clarification from Facebook as to why this had happened. Unable to get a clear answer, The Epoch Times set up additional accounts, and used them to run the subscription ads. The ads were approved. However, because this was a work-around of the ad ban, those accounts were then removed. The Epoch Times is no longer permitted to run ads on Facebook.
The Epoch Times has tried to reach out to Facebook and get an audience as to how to reverse the ad ban. Facebook’s assertion is that “a total ban is so rare, the review so conclusive, and the violations so egregious,” that there is no formal appeals process. Despite Facebook’s assertion that the ban of BL was procedural and not based on content, mainstream media outlets have framed the story that the content was partially to blame. While EMG claims no connection to BL and has provided documentation to clarify, Facebook claims it is still investigating.
The Post Millennial reached out to The Epoch Times publisher, Stephen Gregory, regarding the assertion by mainstream media outlets that “misleading” content is part of the reason EMG us being investigated. Gregory stated that “The Epoch Times is an independent media organization. Which means that our reporting is oftentimes different from other media. We can’t speak to the motives of other media organizations, but we are disappointed by the continued inaccurate reporting about us. EMG’s Facebook pages were not affected by Facebook’s actions against the BL. As stated in our public statements, EMG is not affiliated with the BL. We are also disappointed in Facebook issuing a statement suggesting Epoch Media Group responsibility for BL’s actions without first contacting us to find out if their assumptions about us were accurate. The result was that Facebook has damaged our good name.”
The head of Wuchang’s city hospital in Wuhan is still being treated for coronavirus according to health officials. According to the Chinese government, Dr Liu Zhiming is said to be undergoing resuscitation after contracting the deadly virus but is alive, despite some reports claiming he had died. Many Chinese citizens remain skeptical of the news that Dr Liu remains alive due to previous attempts to cover up deaths of medical personnel.
Dr Li Wenliang died of coronavirus earlier this month. Wenliang was responsible for making knowledge of the coronavirus public and was punished for doing so by Chinese officials. His hospital denied any reports of his death initially before confirming it according to the Daily Mail.
All media outlets were instructed to suppress the coverage of the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. The news of this denial caused a great backlash from the public over the cover-up. Many took to social media to express their rage with the government however their posts were quickly censored.
“He wasn’t allowed to speak. He wasn’t even allowed to die,” wrote one person via the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
“Dr Li Wenliang was only allowed to ‘die’ after most web users had gone to bed,” wrote another person.
Dr Li’s family was paid just over $150,000 after Beijing ruled his death a ‘work place injury’ following the online backlash for the whistleblower.
Liu Fan, 59, was a nurse at Wuchang Hospital who died of the coronavirus after contracting the disease at work last Friday. It’s suspected that Ms. Liu became infected with the disease after failing to get a hazmat suit due to the shortage of medical supplies in Wuhan. The hospital has denied any such rumours.
The hospital released a statement urging all medical workers to protect themselves during work.
It continued: “All neighbourhood clinics need to enforce personal preventative measures according to requirement.”
“In this battle, the virus is cruel. We express our deepest condolences for comrade Liu Fan’s passing”
“We sincerely hope all medical workers remain healthy and will return safe and sound after the battle.”
Chinese authorities have said that those who died from contracting coronavirus in the line of duty should be named martyrs. The Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission said that family members of medical workers who’ve passed should receive financial compensation from the government.
Dr. Liu was the most high-profile medical worker to contract the virus and die and became even more famous after being reprimanded by police and accused of spreading “fake news.” It was in response to a social media post of Dr. Liu, warning of “SARS at a Wuhan seafood market” on December 30. Li’s post came two weeks before the coronavirus broke out in the city.
Kristina Shramko has decided to remain in Wuhan in order to stay with her cat, Kitya. Wuhan has been under lockdown since Jan. 23 in the wake of the coronavirus that began there and has now infected at least 67,000 people and killed more than 1,500. The majority of cases have been in the Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million, is located.
China has so far quarantined more than 50 million people in the Hubei province and all transportation in and out has been shut down.
Shramko can leave her loft in Wuhan, although officers will check her temperature and she is required to wear a mask. Officers patrol the street and and shops to make sure that people comply with the precautions.
Shramko was born and raised in Vancouver and met her boyfriend in Wuhan during a month-long trip to the city. She moved there to be with him about a year prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Shramko’s boyfriend was not in Wuhan at the time of the shutdown due to a business trip. He isn’t allowed to return as per the quarantine rules, so he is currently staying with his family in another province.
Shramko had initially registered herself to be on an evacuation flight when Canadian authorities began chartering flights to get citizens back to Canada, however the strict no-pet policy forced Shramko to make the tough decision to remain in Wuhan to take care of her cat.
“I don’t know when the epidemic will be over so it’s kind of abandoning her in a way, even if I give her to a friend,” Shramko told Business Insider.
Shramko went on to describe the mental conditions of living in quarantine.
“After a month of just being alone and not having that much human interaction, it really takes its toll mentally,” Shramko said
“It’s pretty much a ghost town outside,” she said. “I live directly across from a huge mall and this mall was always packed with people. Even the street to get into the mall’s parking lot was always busy. Now, there are no cars at all and nobody outside.”
Shramko described many of the grocery stores shelves as being barren. She spends her time working on her YouTube channel, watching a Chinese version of Netflix, reading books and playing with Kitya.
She communicates often with her boyfriend and family back in Canada.
“They update me on what they’re hearing about the coronavirus in Canada and I let them know what’s going on in China,” she said.
The Chinese government has extended foreigner visas as a result of the epidemic, however money is getting tight for those forced to stay in quarantine.
“Nobody is working right now so there is no income,” Shramko said. “I’m trying to save as much money as possible since we don’t know when all of this will be over.”
Shramko was initially unphased by the coronavirus lockdown.
“In my mind, a super contagious and deadly virus just didn’t seem real,” she said. “It seemed like something you only saw in movies. After a few weeks, it really kicked in that this was a serious matter.”
Shramko said she understands the circumstances she’s in and doesn’t resent the Chinese government’s handling of the virus.
“I can’t say that I’ve put all my faith in the Chinese government, but I can say that they are doing their best,” she said. “It’s a highly contagious virus, so it’s hard to control.”
Shramko is getting restless to return to Canada now and wishes the government would allow her to take her cat on the plane.
“She’s been there for me throughout this whole quarantine,” Shramko said of her cat. “I should be there for her, too.”
“COVID-19” is presently trending in Canada as new information has broken suggesting that the deadly and endemic coronavirus may have originated at the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control (WCDC) and the Wuhan Centre for Virology, according to a new report from the South China University of Technology.
The Centres, one located just 280 metres away from the Huanan fresh market where the virus was originally claimed to have originated, may have been the epicentre for the now-endemic virus, according to a pre-print report by Biologists Botao XIao and Lei Xiao.
Their report, titled “The Possible Origins of the 2019-nCoV Coronavirus,” explored the histories of the laboratories and noted that diseased animals were hosted within the WCDC, and previous incidents of infections had occurred. The report has since been deleted.
Multiple mainstream media sources have reported on these new findings.
Popular alternative news source Zero Hedge was recently banned from Twitter after questioning the origins of the coronavirus.
More disturbing than the virus itself has been the culture of fear surrounding it. Chinese whistleblowers taking to the internet to inform the world of life inside quarantine have made one thing clear: This is not the common flu.
From the disappearances and deaths of Chinese doctors and journalists claiming the death toll is being underreported, to the erratic behaviour of Chinese netizens reporting on conditions in mainland China.
One source in Wuhan who spoke to The Post Millennial had been providing regular updates to the world on the state of Wuhan hospitals. Known pseudonymously as “MonkeyMan,” he would post footage to a VPN-protected Twitter account showing crowded hospitals with empty medicine cabinets.
In January, he confirmed his parents were infected with the Coronavirus, and feared he would be next.
Shortly after, MonkeyMan deleted all of his posts, and replaced them with a single Tweet praising Chinese president Xi Jinping, asking for forgiveness. He has not responded to messages, and has not tweeted since.
Chinese citizen journalist Jennifer Zeng has also been keeping the world updated on the plight of coronavirus victims in China from the safety of New York City.
One of her most recent posts shows a video taken by a senior couple as they were being told to leave their home and go to a quarantine building by a Government official. They were apparently tracked down via the metadata from their cellphone, which was allegedly used to prove they shared a flight with an individual who was later diagnosed with coronavirus.
A port St. Lucie dialysis patient has a question. While his health is surely his top priority, Nelson Gibson wants to know why he can’t bring his “emotional support Trump” to the dialysis facility with him for his treatment.
Gibson says the dialysis treatment can last up to three and a half hours, with family prohibited from sitting by his side for the entirety of the treatment.
That’s when Gibson had an idea: Instead of having his loved ones by his side, why not bring a lifesized cutout of Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States of America.
And so he did, and he brought Paper Trump with him to stand strong with him to help make his Kidneys Great Again. Yet, after only one visit, he was no longer able to bring Paper Trump with him—despite no one complaining, and some even taking photos of the cutout.
According to Gibson, the lifesize cutout was getting the stinkeye from staff eventually, not being permitted into the building—not due to any wall, but because of a change of heart.
“They told me it was too much and it wasn’t a rally,” says Gibson.
“It was supposed to be an issue of safety infectious disease, which made no sense,” says Eric Gibson, his brother.
Gibson says he feels as though he’s been singled out. Florida, a key state, was won by Trump in 2016 by nearly 200,000 votes.
Nelson says that Paper Trump was a quiet solution to his problem, while others brought in tools to fiddle with such as bubble wrap.
“She brings in the bubble wrapping that you put in boxes and for three and a half hours she’s pop, pop, pop, pop, that’s very nerve-wracking” says Gibson. “I don’t do anything like that I sit there quietly it sits near me and that’s it.”
The family says the do not yet know if they will return to that clinic for treatment.