China defends use of Twitter, Facebook in virus campaign

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government defended its use of Twitter and Facebook on Thursday, following a report that it had used its growing social media presence to spread disinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about the report, the Foreign Ministry’s top spokesperson, Hua Chunying, didn’t directly address the allegations about China’s role in spreading virus disinformation. However, she called the report hype and said China should have the right to use social media too.

An Associated Press investigation, conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, found that powerful political figures and allied media in China as well as the United States (US), Russia and Iran flooded the globe with disinformation about the virus.

The report, published earlier this week, said that Chinese officials went on the offensive in reaction to a narrative — nursed by former US President Donald Trump among others — that the virus had been manufactured by China. Experts have largely ruled out that possibility.

Hua, asked about the AP report at a daily Foreign Ministry briefing, said that some people in Western countries, such as the US, don’t want to hear China’s objective and true voice.

“They are afraid that more people will learn the truth, so that they can no longer spread false information unscrupulously and do whatever they want to mislead and monopolise international public opinion,” she said.

China’s response, though, was to start spreading rumors that the virus had been created by a US military lab and released during an international competition for military athletes in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. The search for the origins of the virus has become highly politicised. Trump sought to pin the blame on China, in part to deflect criticism of his administration’s response to the pandemic in the US.

China, in turn, has played up reports that the virus was circulating outside of the country before the outbreak in Wuhan, suggesting it may have been brought in from elsewhere.

A smartphone records Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying during a briefing. PHOTO: AP