China took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins…

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Among powerful forces around the world, Beijing’s propaganda machines played a key role in churning out conspiracies about the coronavirus originating from other countries, according to a nine-month investigation by Associated Press.

The analysis was based on a review of millions of social media postings and articles on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Weibo, WeChat, YouTube, Telegram, and other platforms.

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  • A new investigation looked into the spread of conspiracies on COVID-19 origins
  • China took the lead in churning out disinformation about other nations, it found 
  • Officials and media outlets in Russia, Iran and the US also ramped up false claims

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

PUBLISHED: 05:07 GMT, 15 February 2021 | UPDATED: 11:02 GMT, 15 February 2021

China took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins, a new investigation has found.

Among powerful forces around the world, Beijing’s propaganda machines played a key role in churning out conspiracies about the coronavirus originating from other countries, according to a nine-month investigation by Associated Press.

Leading media and officials in Russia, Iran and the US – including Donald Trump – also ramped up politically motivated false claims in a global race to control the narrative about where the virus came from, the report said. 

It took just three months for the rumour that COVID-19 was engineered as a bioweapon to spread from the fringes of the Chinese internet and take root in millions of people´s minds.

By March 2020, belief that the virus had been human-made and possibly weaponised was widespread, multiple surveys indicated. 

The Pew Research Center found, for example, that one in three Americans believed the new coronavirus had been created in a lab; one in four thought it had been engineered intentionally.

This chaos was, at least in part, manufactured, according to a nine-month Associated Press investigation of state-sponsored disinformation conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Powerful forces, from Beijing and Washington to Moscow and Tehran, have battled to control the narrative about where the virus came from. 

As the pandemic swept the world, it was China that took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins.  

Leading officials and allied media in all four countries functioned as super-spreaders of disinformation, using their stature to sow doubt and amplify politically expedient conspiracies already in circulation. 

The analysis was based on a review of millions of social media postings and articles on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Weibo, WeChat, YouTube, Telegram, and other platforms. 

Beijing was reacting to weeks of fiery rhetoric from leading U.S. Republicans, including then-President Donald Trump, who sought to rebrand COVID-19 as ‘the China virus.’

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Beijing has worked to promote friendship and serve facts, while defending itself against hostile forces seeking to politicise the pandemic.

‘All parties should firmly say ‘no’ to the dissemination of disinformation,’ the ministry said in a statement to AP, but added, ‘In the face of trumped-up charges, it is justified and proper to bust lies and clarify rumours by setting out the facts.’

The day after the World Health Organization designated the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), shot off a series of late-night tweets that launched what may be the party’s first truly global digital experiment with overt disinformation.

Chinese diplomats have only recently mobilised on Western social media platforms, more than tripling their Twitter accounts and more than doubling their Facebook accounts since late 2019. Both platforms are banned in China.

‘When did patient zero begin in US?’ Zhao tweeted on March 12. ‘How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe (sic) us an explanation!’

What happened next showcases the power of China’s global messaging machine.

On Twitter alone, Zhao’s aggressive spray of 11 tweets on March 12 and 13 was cited over 99,000 times over the next six weeks, in at least 54 languages, according to analysis conducted by DFRLab. 

The accounts that referenced him had nearly 275 million followers on Twitter – a number that almost certainly includes duplicate followers and does not distinguish fake accounts.

For more:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9261049/COVID-conspiracy-shows-vast-reach-Chinese-disinformation.html?ito=social-twitter_mailonline

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