02/16/2021, 16.34
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Beijing is the first to spread false information about COVID-19

Russia, Iran and the US follow China. Conspiracy theories are amplified on Twitter and Facebook. Hundreds of millions of social media users have shared conspiracy tweets posted by Chinese diplomats. Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran spread same theories. Trump's accusations sparked China’s reactions.

Washington (AsiaNews) – China leads the way in spreading false information about the origins of COVID-19, followed by Russia, Iran and the United States.

The finding is the result of a nine-month investigation by the Associated Press in collaboration with the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. Published yesterday, the research is based on the analysis of millions of social media postings and online articles.

The evidence suggests that the Chinese government is using social media to spread or amplify conspiracy theories that claim that the coronavirus was created in the United States. The most popular theory in the Chinese blogosphere is that US athletes spread the coronavirus during Wuhan Military Games in October 2019.

Since late 2019, Chinese diplomats have doubled Facebook profiles and tripled those on Twitter, both of which are outlawed in their country. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian played a key role in spreading conspiracy theories.

On 11 and 12 March 2020, he posted 11 tweets, which were cited 99,000 times over the next six weeks in 54 languages. The accounts that referenced him had nearly 275 million followers on Twitter.

The Hashtags used by the Chinese diplomat in his Twitter storm were viewed 314 million times on Weibo, China's popular social media platform.

Zhao's message was relayed by the Global Times, a paper associated with the Chinese Communist Party,  as well as at least 30 social media profiles of Chinese diplomats. Support also came from Russian media, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry and web users linked to the Saudi royal family. 

In addition to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Chinese disinformation is spread on Weibo, WeChat and a number of sites that share videos such as Haokan, Xigua, Baijiahao, Bilibili, IQIYI, Kuaishou and Youku. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, was also used.

According to NATO experts, Beijing is using Russian-developed disinformation strategies. To get its message across, China has used Kremlin proxies in Europe and North America that "clean up" information. Thanks to their technological expertise, the Chinese have made the most of this network of contacts.

Iran too boosted the theory that the coronavirus was a US-developed biological weapon. To justify refusing to foreign medical health, some Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, claimed that coronavirus was a biological weapon, part of a plot orchestrated by Washington.

However, with deaths rising, Russia and Iran largely dropped conspiracy theory peddling in April 2020. China did not.

When former US President Donald Trump began accusing China of manufacturing the virus in a lab in Wuhan, backed by anti-Chinese conspiracy theories posted on QAnon discussion boars, Beijing fired back.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, one in three Americans believe the coronavirus was artificially developed. However, the Team of Experts from World Health Organization that recently visited Wuhan said that the idea that the virus was leaked from a Chinese laboratory is very unlikely.

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