On Diba, Chinese social media site Weibo, and a handful of Facebook pages and groups, the instructions organizers posted for the raid included behavioral guidelines.
Guidelines given to Diba users listed the forum’s four key principles: be patriotic, don’t curse, be reasonable and maintain truth above all else. Organizers appeared to be conscious that the raid would attract a global audience.
“There will be media screenshots of the process, don’t lose face for yourself and your country,” they said. “We are only anti-extremist, not anti-religion or ethnicity, and everyone has their own freedom of belief. Please do not attack people or religion, and do not publish extreme rhetoric. Our purpose is national harmony and equality for all.”
Speaking via instant messenger, an admin of one of the Facebook groups coordinating the raid said it had two primary purposes.
“The first one is to refute all the rumors about Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region spread by the East Turkistan separatists,” said the admin, who gave her name as Vicky. “The second one is we hope more people in the world can hear the voice from China and Chinese, not just hear us from their media.”
The admin said while she was based in China, others involved in the campaign were overseas Chinese. Responding to accusations from Hidayat and others that Diba members were paid to take part in the campaign, an admin said “this is a non-governmental group and participation in the campaign (was) purely voluntary.”
Even though most of the comments have since been deleted by page admins, Vicky felt it was a successful operation.
“I think we got our foot in the door,” she said.
The Facebook raid comes amid what appears to be heightened concern within China over how the country is portrayed on Western social media.
In China, Twitter users critical of the government have reportedly been visited by the police
and ordered to delete posts or their entire accounts. Accounts of Chinese dissidents, and even non-political researchers, have gone silent without explanation.
Reddit administrators have also noticed a surge in threads relating to topics critical of China being downvoted and those maligning it being buried, according to BuzzFeed News
The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond to requests for comment for this article. In a statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “as a principle, we don’t normally comment on social media activities and opinions.”
“Nowadays, the overall social situation of Xinjiang is stable and the momentum for economic development is good. All ethnic groups get along well,” the foreign ministry said in its statement. “The sense of security and fulfillment from a stable society have improved greatly.”
A Facebook spokeswoman told CNN the company was working “in a variety of ways to find and disrupt this kind of abuse and to provide people with the tools that help people control the content they see.”