COVID-19 Started in China. To Change the Narrative, China Started to Tweet

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Jeff Kao is a ProPublica reporter who FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2020, photo, a policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Gate following the coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing.Twitter continued, “Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs.”The accounts belonged to a “larger, spammy network of approximately 200,00 accounts” that the platform suspended for violating a range of rules covering all users.“I think when social media was created, people in general hoped that it would encourage a more open civil society, discussion of opinion would be easier,” said Vincent Wang, dean pf the College of Arts and Sciences and political science professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.“But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of the open society and freedom of speech in the West and made it a tool for its own propaganda against democracy,” he said.Kao told VOA Mandarin that he noticed the accounts tweeting about Hong Kong changed.  As the coronavirus spread, the accounts focusing on Hong Kong changed to focus on the epidemic initially covered up by Beijing after it was linked to a market in Wuhan selling wildlife, such as bats, for human consumption. Many coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, start out in animals and jump to humans.As the epidemic raged through China, many of the accounts “became cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to ‘dispel online rumors,’” wrote Kao. As the epidemic spread worldwide and became a pandemic, the accounts pointed out China’s response at home.FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing face masks work on a car seat assembly line at Yanfeng Adient factory in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 24, 2020.“We were not scared during the outbreak because our country was our rearguard. Many disease fighting warriors were thrust to the front lines” said one. Others pointed out Beijing’s aid to countries such as Italy to ensure Staff members move barriers in front of a railway station of Wuhan on the first day of inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China, March 28, 2020.“So, it’s a pretty vast effort, and it really makes it pretty difficult for people to understand what’s the truth, particularly if the whole thing is just designed to create one narrative.”Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment Friday evening were directed automatically to an operator, then went to music before cutting off.Wang called for congressional hearings on nations’ use of Twitter and other platforms to spread disinformation. He wants lawmakers to find a way to protect the principle of freedom of speech while stopping the Chinese Communist Party from “making negative use of the technology for its own propaganda.”He said he believes it would be futile to block China’s accounts.“If you do that, China would have a lot of ways to cope with it by setting up even more new accounts.Wang told VOA Mandarin the best way to combat China’s disinformation efforts is “to raise (the) public’s awareness, so that people using social media can understand that if a so-called news (item) is bad quality information, a lie or disinformation, no matter how many times it is repeated, even if thousands times, it still will not become truth.”Yuwen Cheng and Zhan Qiao of VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.   

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