Virus warning over spread of ‘fake news’
RUSSIAN, Chinese and Iranian propagandists are spreading fake news online to sow confusion about the coronavirus, according to a top digital propaganda expert.
There are even online claims, being amplified by Chinese diplomats online, that the virus started US unleashed bioweapon from the CIA or Deep State.
University of Canberra associate professor Michael Jensen, an expert in digital propaganda, said there were attempts to increase China's international influence.
"I've seen tweets suggesting that the coronavirus was planted by the US Government, probably the CIA, during an event held in Wuhan in October. The problem with that is the first cases didn't appear until two months later," he said.
"The virus doesn't remain latent for that long. But it's a claim that's been amplified by Chinese diplomats.
"It's not just bad actors with tweets saying silly things, it's an information campaign, with official actions, that can have effects on international politics."
One tweet from a Russian source claiming the Serbian President said: "The only country that can help us is China".
"By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I believe in my brother and friend Xi Jinping, and I believe in Chinese help," the Russian tweet stated.
He said there were messages going out from Chinese, Iranian and Russian publications with contrasting information, claiming that the virus was just a flu, or that the "world is coming to an end".
"When people are confused, it undermines their capacity to evaluate the actions of governments effectively, reduces their trust in official and expert statements about prudent actions to take, and it makes it harder for them to get people to go along with government and expert recommendations," prof Jensen said.
He urged people to turn to government sources, as well as trusted, established news sources for information during the pandemic.
"We're talking about a public health crisis. Why would you trust your health and your families health to something you randomly find online?" prof Jensen said.
Recently created accounts, or those suddenly tweeting health information about the virus without having previously acted on earlier outbreaks like ebola or SARS, were less trustworthy accounts, prof Jensen said.