On Monday, August 25, an article titled "the Life of Murong Xuecun" was retweeted nearly a thousand times by more than a hundred twitter accounts. The article, using vulgar language, describes Murong as a traitor, liar, cheater, child molester and domestic abuser.
Upon investigation, it is found that most of those twitter accounts that retweeted the article were registered in 2014. The majority of them were registered in July and August. The accounts' average number of followers is about ten. Some have zero follower. A further investigation on seven of those tweets about Murong found that the seven tweets were retweeted more than 800 times by only 160 twitter accounts. This means that on average, the same message was retweeted by each account for more than five times.
Clearly, it was an organized smear campaign against Murong. But why?
Columnist Su Xinghe believes this must have something to do with Murong's oppositional stance towards the Chinese Communist regime. In May, Murong published an op-ed in the New York Times in which he protested the arrest of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and others and announced his intention to turn himself in upon his return to China. In response to this statement of surrender, he was later summoned by Beijing police.
Smear campaigns of similar kind have appeared before. Victims were usually well-known political dissidents, including Ai Weiwei, Hu Jia and Wen Yunchao. In order to defame these dissidents' characters and create pressure on them and their families, numerous libelous articles about their private lives have been written and widely circulated on the Internet.
The Chinese authorities have deployed a large amount of resources and roguish tactics to persecute a dissident. In this increasingly connected world, however, it will become more and more difficult for the authorities to deceive people.
Columnist Xiang Xiaokai believes the twitter smear campaign against Murong could also be a precursor of larger scale cyber attacks.
From the perspective of engineering management, before launching a large scale cyber attack, in order to secure the success of the attack, there are usually many decentralized and small scale tests being carried out. Because these tests are small in scale, they usually don't attract much public attention.