Recently Twitter added a “fact check” label to President Donald Trump’s tweets about the concerns surrounding mail-in voting fraud, but the social media site has failed to apply those same fact-checking measures to verified Chinese government accounts that spread coronavirus misinformation on the platform.
Breitbart News recently reported on Twitter’s attempts to “fact check” President Trump, this time focusing on the President’s tweets discussing concerns surrounding mail-in voting fraud. Twitter chose to add its own personal “fact-check” to the President’s tweet, Breitbart News journalist Allum Bokhari outlined why this situation is unique in an article writing:
Unlike Facebook, which gives itself plausible deniability for fact-checking bias by relying on “third party fact checkers” (almost all left-leaning) to pick and choose what to fact-check and what to ignore, Twitter made the decision to fact-check Trump’s tweet itself, linking to an official “moment” curated by Twitter employees and containing numerous articles from the mainstream media calling the president a liar.
In a comment to Breitbart News, Twitter said there was no way for the President even to appeal the dubious “fact-check.”
However, despite the “fact-checking” of President Trump by Twitter, the site has not applied the same standards to other governments and heads of state. In particular, the site has refused to remove or even fact-check posts from Chinese government officials spreading conspiracy theories suggesting that the Wuhan coronavirus actually originated in the United States.
In March of this year, Breitbart News reported that Twitter refused to crack down on misinformation from Chinese officials, with the Daily Beast reporting:
Coronavirus disinformation spread by senior Chinese government officials does not violate Twitter’s terms of service, a spokesperson for the company told The Daily Beast on Monday.
The spokesperson pointed to language on its website, which gives wide latitude to statements from government officials. “Presently,” the company says, “direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”
Republican lawmakers Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Rep. Mike Gallagher(R-WI) wrote a letter to Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, in March asking the CEO to crack down on Chinese propaganda on the site. The Senators stated in their letter:
It is clear that Chinese Communist Party officials are using twitter to disseminate propaganda in the midst of a dangerous global crisis. Even worse, this propaganda obscures and confuses users over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially undermines efforts to contain and control the outbreak. We believe this behavior more than warrants their removal from the platform.
But just months later in May, Breitbart News reported that according to a study of data collected by the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a tool aggregating accounts connected to the Chinese government, the Chinese disinformation campaign had been ramped up.
On May 8, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry posted a sweet that has been liked more than 4,000 times which reads: “The #US keeps calling for transparency & investigation. Why not open up Fort Detrick & other bio-labs for international review? Why not invite #WHO & int’l experts to the US to look into #COVI19 source & response?”
The military houses and studies infectious diseases at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The #US keeps calling for transparency & investigation. Why not open up Fort Detrick & other bio-labs for international review? Why not invite #WHO & int'l experts to the US to look into #COVID19 source & response?
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) May 8, 2020
It was estimated by Bret Schafer, the digital disinformation fellow at the alliance, that since the beginning of April more than 200 diplomatic and state-run media accounts had published more than 90,000 tweets in a massive Wuhan coronavirus information war.
Schafer’s analysis estimated that Twitter output from China’s official sites had almost doubled since January with the number of diplomatic Twitter accounts tripling to 135 from 40 accounts at the same time last year.
According to Schafer, the Chinese accounts “have become more aggressive, more conspiratorial, and the ones who have done that are their most popular accounts and have by far the most engagement.”
Schafer stated that the Twitter account for the Chinese Embassy in France “has significantly more followers than the embassy in Poland, for example, because the embassy in France has been a driver of the most aggressive content.”
On March 12, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman and deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, who has been one of China’s most prolific officials on Twitter, tweeted: “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
A day later, Zhao tweeted that there was “Further evidence that the virus originated in the US.”
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. https://t.co/LPanIo40MR
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 13, 2020
Zhao linked to a post from Global Research, a Canadian blog that has argued that the virus could have originated at Fort Detrick in the U.S. The post has since been removed. Zhao’s March 13 tweet has been retweeted 12,600 times and liked 20,000 times.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
On April 30, the official state-run news agency Xinhua posted a two-minute video titled “Once Upon a Virus” which mocked the United States’ response to the Wuhan coronavirus and praised China’s efforts. This has since been retweeted almost 26,000 times an liked 50,000 times.
China: We discovered a new virus.
America: So what?
China: It's Dangerous
America: It's only a Flu
China: Wear a Mask
America: Don't wear a Mask
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) April 30, 2020
In another tweet, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: “In our fight against #COVID19, the Chinese government has always been open, transparent & responsible. We always speak the truth with facts. It’s crystal clear which country has been doing everything possible to ensure people’s life & health & promote anti-pandemic cooperation.”
In our fight against #COVID19, the Chinese government has always been open, transparent & responsible. We always speak the truth with facts. It’s crystal clear which country has been doing everything possible to ensure people’s life & health & promote anti-pandemic cooperation. pic.twitter.com/jGXXVbElPL
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) May 21, 2020
However, despite China’s claims of openness and transparency, over 110 countries have called for an independent investigation of the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus and the World Health Organisation’s response. China has also previously rejected calls for an independent international investigation into the coronavirus outbreak, claiming that any demands for an inquiry are “politically motivated.”
Despite all of this, Twitter has continued to refuse to fact-check tweets from Chinese government accounts, instead choosing to focus on President Trump’s concerns about mail-in voting fraud.
Read more about the situation at Breitbart News here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address firstname.lastname@example.org
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