Chinese activists – including dissident artist Badiucao – have been approached by social media users falsely claiming to be journalists from Reuters, the news agency reported on Tuesday.
The two journalists who had their identities faked were Shanghai bureau chief Brenda Goh, and correspondent Jessie Pang, who is based in Hong Kong. According to Reuters, the sham accounts emerged in November last year on platforms including Instagram and Telegram.
They sought information about a group linked to the “white paper” protests against Beijing’s stringent Covid-19 regulations at the time, the outlet said.
China saw unprecedented demonstrations in multiple cities last November as public anger erupted over the country’s zero-Covid policy. Protesters often held blank A4 sheets at rallies to criticise censorship and the lack of free speech. It later became a symbol of the days-long unrest.
The sham accounts came to light last Saturday when Australia-based cartoonist Badiucao revealed on Twitter that he was approached by someone purporting to be Pang. Screenshots posted by the cartoonist showed that the impersonator, who communicated in Simplified Chinese, asked for information about Citizens Daily, an platform that regularly shares updates on protest activities in China. He was also contacted on Instagram.
Badiucao said when he tried to verify the identity of the account through Twitter, the imposter said the account was “operated by a team at Reuters” and they could not access it. Instead, they sent the dissident a photo of Pang’s press card, which expired on January 31 this year.
Reuters reported that another Chinese activist told the outlet that he had a conversation with someone pretending to be Goh on Twitter for three months. Goh’s press ID and her personal details, including her nationality, were disclosed to the activist to gain his trust, the report read.
The imposters deleted all of their known accounts and conversations after the impersonation was exposed. Meta Platforms Inc, which owns Instagram, told Reuters that they had taken down the fake account, while Telegram did not respond to the outlet’s requests for comment.
“We are looking into the impersonation and theft of press credentials of Reuters journalists and will take appropriate action,” a spokesperson for Reuters said.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association on Tuesday condemned the impersonation and urged the perpetrator to stop such acts immediately. The press union called on social media platforms which have yet to remove the fake accounts concerned to act as soon as possible and “set the record straight.”
It also reminded the general public to verify the identity of journalists when they were asked to respond to sensitive questions.
“The Hong Kong Journalists Association believes that such acts amounted to duping the interviewees’ trust, which is despicable,” a statement from the press group read.
Support HKFP | Code of Ethics | Error/typo? | Contact Us | Newsletter | Transparency & Annual Report
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.