Twitter needs to quit China now
January 4, 2022
Twitter is getting more questions from conservatives regarding its lifetime ban of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
Greene was banned for questioning the number of adverse effects from Covid vaccinations — but there is more than one rogue account that Twitter seemingly ignores, despite egregious and repeated false claims and abuse of Twitter’s platform.
Unlike Greene, however, these accounts follow sophisticated methods for amplifying their falsehoods, using the relative strength of a state treasury and state resources to keep their disinformation going.
Accounts tied to Chinese state–controlled media and the Chinese foreign ministry have been using Twitter to spread disinformation that is often first posited by Chinese officials on Twitter accounts.
Liberals and conservatives agree on this and both sides oppose it, with the Associated Press, ProPublica and The New York Times all doing recent in-depth investigative pieces on the abuse of Twitter by China, which has been used to leverage its pro-China propaganda algebraically not just mathematically.
Because the disinformation spread by China on Twitter is then amplified by China’s paid army of Twitter trolls that, according to the Associated Press, accounts for up to half of the traffic given that information.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lijian Zhao, first used Twitter to spread Covid disinformation early in the pandemic, tweeting a since–deleted report by Chinese “experts” that claimed that the Covid virus originated in the United States.
“This article is very much important to each and every one of us. Please read and retweet it. COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US,” wrote Zhao in a still-active tweet that enjoyed 11,000 retweets and nearly 18,000 likes.
On the success of the Lijian Zhao tweet, another post came later in the year from China Daily, the largest newspaper in the Middle Kingdom, which alleged that the coronavirus came from contaminated seafood from the U.S.
“All available evidence suggests that #COVID19 did not start in central China’s Wuhan, but may come into China through imported frozen food products and their packaging,” said the newspaper’s Twitter account.
The story links to a Facebook post that cites Chinese officials who have also claimed, by misrepresenting legitimate research, that virus originated, not in the U.S. but in Italy,
Both posts are still active on Facebook and Twitter and, if the Associated Press can be believed it, were disseminated by China’s faithful army of social media soldiers called the Wumao Army, making the posts appear credible.
“This fiction of popularity can boost the status of China’s messengers,” says the AP, “creating a mirage of broad support. It can also distort platform algorithms, which are designed to boost the distribution of popular posts, potentially exposing more genuine users to Chinese government propaganda.”
China’s Zhao has also alleged on Twitter that the U.S. deliberately brought Covid into China during the 2019 Military Games held in Wuhan in October.
“Early in the pandemic, Chinese sources spread the theory that SARS CoV-2 originated at Fort Detrick and was spread to China by U.S. military,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told USA Today. “The platforms can remove it, or if they decide against doing so, can downgrade it or flag it and attach fact-checking content.”
Twitter did nothing to the posts about Fort Dietrich, which still feature prominently on the site in conversations about the origins of Covid.
In part, the persistence of Chinese efforts has been the result of Twitter’s benign neglect towards China which still allows those false tweets to be posted.
Twitter, according to ProPublica, has been aware of the Chinese influence operation for a long time and has at times taken steps to block those individual accounts when they can “reliably attribute” them to state accounts.
“If we identify further information campaigns on our service that we can reliably attribute to state-backed activity either domestic or foreign-led, we will disclose them,” Twitter told Pro Publica when asked about the Chinese Twitter ops.
But what about the main actors in the disinformation campaign? What about the actual accounts that start the disinformation and that benefit the Chinese politicians who are gaming Twitter’s platform to spread disinformation?
Why do these main actors escape scrutiny when a small-town legislator from Georgia gets a ban for questioning the official Covid statistics?
Liberals and conservatives, who so often disagree, agree that Twitter should at least get rid of the dictators who use Twitter unfairly.
“If Trump’s behavior on Twitter was grounds for a permanent ban, why are officials from autocratic governments allowed to continue using the site to spread propaganda, justify repressive violence, and promote conspiracy theories?” Slate asked.
“China has blocked Twitter since 2009 and its leaders, ministries, and embassies should not be allowed to use the site to propagandize to foreign audiences” Slate concluded.