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Report: Chinese posted 90,000 tweets since April in massive coronavirus disinformation campaign

Chinese regulation of online activity (Methodshop/Flickr)
May 22, 2020

China has conducted a massive disinformation campaign on Twitter, posting 90,000 tweets since the start of April on the platform in an effort to deflect blame for the deadly coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, according to a new report.

About 200 diplomatic and state-run media accounts associated with the Communist Party in China have posted more than double their normal amount of tweets, the report from NBC News states. The research was conducted by the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a tool that aggregates accounts connected to the Chinese government.

According to Bret Schafer, the digital disinformation fellow at the Washington D.C.-based alliance, the number of Twitter accounts for Chinese diplomats as tripled, going from 40 to 135 accounts. While the tweets are usually in the language of the embassy’s host country, many of them are in English and Mandarin.

Schafer said those Chinese accounts “have become more aggressive, more conspiratorial, and the ones who have done that are their most popular accounts and have by far the most engagement.”

For example, Schafer noted that the Twitter account for the Chinese diplomat in France has more “significantly more followers” than the one in Poland because the account in France has been more aggressive.

China’s disinformation campaign surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus has gone as far as pushing a conspiracy theory that the United States created the virus and planted it in the city of Wuhan during the 2019 Military World Games, which took place in Wuhan. They could provide no such evidence to support the theory.

China’s spokesperson for its Foreign Affairs Ministry, Hua Chuying, also pushed a conspiracy that the United States’ Fort Detrick holds a secret regarding the coronavirus. The military installation houses and studies infectious diseases at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

“The #US keeps calling for transparency & investigation. Why not open up Fort Detrick & other bio-labs for international review? Why not invite #WHO & int’l experts to the US to look into #COVI19 source & response?” Hua wrote, but offered no proof.

In response, President Donald Trump has called out the disinformation campaign against the United States, saying that the Chinese would fair better off if Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential race, won the election. Trump has spent a notable portion of his political capital waging a trade war against China since he became president in 2017.

“China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump has also accused Chinese representatives of “desperately trying to deflect the pain and carnage” the country caused since it failed to contain the coronavirus.

“Its disinformation and propaganda attack on the United States and Europe is a disgrace,” he tweeted. “It all comes from the top. They could have easily stopped the plague, but they didn’t!”