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Facebook says China linked to COVID-19 propaganda campaign against US

Xi Jinping speaks to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2017. (Ma Zhancheng/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
December 03, 2021

Facebook revealed on Wednesday that Chinese state employees were linked to a “deceptive” COVID-19 disinformation campaign that claimed the United States was pressuring the World Health Organization to blame the pandemic on China.

In a report entitled “THE SWISS BIOLOGIST THAT NEVER WAS: A Chinese influence operation focused on COVID-19,” Facebook wrote that someone based in China pretended to be a Swiss biologist named “Dr. Wilson Edwards,” who claimed that the United States was “putting pressure on World Health Organization scientists studying the origins of COVID-19 in an attempt to blame the virus on China.”

Facebook said hundreds of social media accounts picked up the story within 48 hours and Chinese Communist Party state-run media, including the Global Times and People’s Daily, ran headlines highlighting the alleged US “intimidation.”

Just over two weeks after “Wilson Edwards” made the claims, the Swiss Embassy in Beijing confirmed there was no record of a Swiss citizen with that name. After a quick investigation, Facebook determined the account was fake and removed it.

“In essence, this campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona. Our investigation uncovered that almost the entire initial spread of the ‘Wilson Edwards’ story on our platform was inauthentic — the work of a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China,” Facebook’s report stated.

The tech giant said that their investigation found links to individuals in mainland China, including employees of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co, Ltd. Facebook also found connections with “Chinese state infrastructure companies located around the world.”

“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” Facebook explained.

Due to the disinformation campaign, 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four Groups and 86 Instagram accounts were taken down.

NBC News reported that Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, said in statement that “China has shown a scientific, professional, serious and responsible attitude from the very beginning” of the COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan. Liu did not address the fake Facebook account.

In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) was accused of protecting the Chinese Communist Party after naming the latest COVID-19 variant “omicron,” skipping over the next letters in the Greek alphabet: “nu” and “xi.” The president of China is Xi Jinping and WHO said “xi” was passed over to avoid “causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”