Facebook, Instagram delete Chinese networks for fake COVID claims by ‘Swiss biologist’

FILE PHOTO: A smartphone with a 3D printed Meta logo and Facebook logo is placed on a laptop keyboard in this illustration
FILE PHOTO: A smartphone with a 3D printed Meta logo and Facebook logo is placed on a laptop keyboard in this illustration taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

December 1, 2021

By James Pearson and Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc said on Wednesday it had removed accounts used by an influence operation that originated in China to promote claims by a “biologist”. Switzerland” falsely states that the United States is interfering in the search for the origin of COVID-19.

The social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the US and UK, and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the West, Meta said in a report. Tibet.

The statement by “Swiss biologist” Wilson Edwards was widely quoted by Chinese state media in July. In August, several Chinese newspapers deleted comments and deleted articles citing him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said they had found no evidence that he was a Swiss citizen. Si.

Meta said Facebook deleted the Wilson Edwards account in August and has since deleted 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, 4 Groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of the investigation. Such removals will also remove content posted by these organizations.

“We… were able to link operations with individuals in mainland China, including employees of a specific company in China, Sichuan Sichuan Information Technology Co., Ltd., as well as a number of individuals individuals affiliated with Chinese state-owned infrastructure companies around the world,” Meta head of global threat disruption David Agranovich told Reuters.

Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s foreign ministry and internet regulator China’s Cyberspace Administration also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meta said it did not find any link between Sichuan Silent Information Technology and the Chinese government.

Silence Information’s website describes itself as an information security and network company that provides cybersecurity services for the operations of China’s Ministry of Public Security and China’s CNCERT, the key coordination group for the application. China’s emergency deputy for cyber security.

On July 24, 10 hours after it was founded, the Facebook account “Wilson Edwards” posted a post stating that he had been informed that the United States was seeking to discredit the qualifications of experts. World Health Organization scientists working with China to probe the origins of COVID-19.

Meta said the account operators used virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origins and attempt to give Edwards a well-rounded personality.

Meta says the character’s original post was initially shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts, then retweeted by genuine users, most of which belonged to employees of the companies. Chinese state-owned infrastructure companies in more than 20 countries, Meta said.

“This is the first time we have observed an activity involving a coordinated group of public employees to self-amplify in this way,” the report said. Meta said it found no evidence that the network gained any traction among authentic communities.

China’s state-run media outlets, from China Daily to television news service CGTN, widely cited the July post as proof that US President Joe Biden’s administration is getting political. of WHO. The government believes that the joint investigation between WHO and China lacks transparency.

The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and is a source of tension between China, the United States and other countries.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and James Pearson in Hanoi; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Chris Sanders and David Gregorio) Facebook, Instagram delete Chinese networks for fake COVID claims by ‘Swiss biologist’

Caroline Bleakley

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