Europe is facing economic challenges due to the spread of COVID-19 across the continent. EU-politicians are warning for Chinese trying to take advantage of the current situation weakening the economy and status of the EU with the aim to gain economic assets and influence. In their publications MEPS and media-platforms are specifically mentioning China as a source of disinformation on the spread of Corona-virus in Europe.
The spread of corona-virus across Europe makes it hard or impossible for many companies to do business. It is uncertain what the effects of continuation of the lockdown will be on businesses that are in financial trouble right now. The disruption of business and the uncertainty about the future have weakened the the state of many companies. Euro-commissioner Margrete Vestager highlights the threat that Chinese investors might try to take over European companies while the economy is weakened.
A group of 39 Members of the European Parliament has put forward an initiative to stop the spread of disinformation on Corona. These MEPs want to stop the spread of disinformation on the spread of corona in Europe since they see it as a risk to public health and the public image of and economy Europe. China is being specifically mentioned by these MEP’s as a direct source of disinformation. Is this true? And if so, in what form is this disinformation being spread?
Researchers from a wide range of institutions have looked into the topic and were able to proof that Chinese sources backed by the Chinese government are spreading fake information in several ways. Information that is spread by these sources Is for a large part in Chinese targeting Chinese citizens. A significant amount of the disinformation that is being spread by these sources is in English and other languages targeting the rest of the world and populations of specific countries.
EUvsDisinfo is part of the EU’s Stratcom taskforce that is investigating the spread of false information. This organisation is countering the spread of false information by doing fact-checks and in some cases by taking measures against those who spread the information. The organisation mentioned the following about the spread of disinformation on COVID-19.
Despite their potentially grave impact on public health, official and state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and – to a lesser extent – China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation both at public audiences in the EU and the wider neighbourhood. – Europe VS Disinformation
The main way that Chinese sources are spreading disinformation is trough the use of social media. Since August 2019, the non-profit newsroom ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Among those are the hacked accounts of users from around the world that now post propaganda and disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong protests and other topics of state interest.
Twitter is well aware of China’s influence operations. Before the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world the company was already taking action trying to stop the spread of disinformation on Twitter. In August and September, the platform announced that it had suspended more than 5,000 suspected Chinese state-controlled accounts and released data about them. Twitter also banned around 200,000 related accounts that had been created but were not yet very active.
An analysis by ProPublica shows that the Chinese government’s covert attempts to wield influence on Twitter have persisted. The examination of more than 10.000 of twitter accounts sharing similar type of disinformation where all linked to Onesight technology in Beijing a company that is under contract by the China News Service, the country’s second-largest state-owned news agency.
It is true that sources from China in many cases directly linked to the Chinese government spread fake information on the spread of COVID-19. The main tool for the Chinese to influence sphere of information that is out there is by using twitter-bots to spread disinformation.
EU-politicians and social-media platforms like Twitter are acknowledging the threat of disinformation regarding COVID-19 is a threat. China as well as Russia are being mentioned often as sources of this disinformation. By suspending accounts spreading fake information, checking facts and spreading reliable information involved parties are doing the best they can to counter the disinformation.