Is the US behind the coronavirus outbreak?

A large number of Russian-linked social networks accounts have opened an integrated focus to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disturbing worldwide efforts to beat the crisis, United States (US) officials say.

The disinformation campaign promotes misguided conspiracy possibilities that the US is behind the COVID-19 outbreak, in a recognizable bid to spoil the US image around the globe by grasping on health issues.

State dept. authorities assigned with fighting Russian disinformation claimed that false personas are being used on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to maximize Russian talking points in several languages.

“Russia’s intention is to sow discord and undermine US organizations and alliances from within, such as thru covert and coercive cancerous impact campaigns,”

Said Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia

“By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response,” he said.

The claims that have been moving in previous days include allegations that the virus is a US work to “wage economical war on China,” that it’s a biological weapon produced by the CIA or part of a Western-led effort “to push anti-China messages.”

US individuals such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, a philanthropist who’s invested massive amounts on world health programs, have also been mistakenly accused of involvement in the virus.

The disinformation campaign was identified by US informants in mid-January after Chinese authorities said the 3rd death from the new coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Even more than 2,340 a lot of people have since died, mostly in China. The number of cases is over 76,000 and the virus has reached around 30 countries. Among them is Iran, which on Saturday requested the closing of educational institutions in two cities, after a 5th death.

Close co-ordination observed

Thousands of online accounts – recently recognized for broadcasting Russian-supported messages on big events like the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France and Chile’s mass demonstrations – are publishing “almost near-identical” information about the unique coronavirus, as reported by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.

The accounts – run by people, not robots – posting at the same time in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French and can be connected back to Russian proxy servers, or carry the same information to Russian-backed channels such as RT and Sputnik, it said.

Russian state-funded mass media started out pressing on anti-Western messages about the reason for the crisis on 20 January, with agents of the social networks accounts just starting to post worldwide the following day, US officials say.

“In this case, we were able to see their full disinformation ecosystem in effect, including state TV, proxy web sites and thousands of false social media personas all pushing the same themes,” said Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle, head of the Global Engagement Center, which is assigned with monitoring and exposing propaganda and disinformation.

During the course of lots of past news events, the accounts would publish actively for up to seventy-two hours. But information about the one of a kind coronavirus has been published every day during the last month – a sign, US officials said, of Russia’s funding in a story not likely to fade away soon from the headlines.

“In the Russian doctrine of information confrontation, this is classic,”

Said another official from the Global Engagement Center.

“The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has not reached its peak, so the Russian tactic is to very easily but very effectively take benefit for the information and facts to inseminate discord between us and China, or for economical purposes.”

Professionals noticed parallels with past conspiracy theories tracked to Moscow, especially a KGB disinformation campaign in the 80s that very much convinced many around the world that US specialists produced the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

US intelligence has also said that Russia caused problems by using social media manipulation in the 2016 election and attempts to achieve this again in 2020. The Kremlin has rejected the charges and President Donald Trump has scoffed at recommendations of Russian help.

Risks noticed in response

Scientists think the coronavirus disease originated from late December in Wuhan at a shop selling exotic animals for human consumption.

Bats are found carriers of this tension of the coronavirus outbreak, whose official name is SARS-CoV-2, but scientists believe it widespread to humans via another mammal species, possibly pangolins.

The US believes the most recent Russian disinformation campaign is allowing it to be harder to respond to the crisis, especially in Africa and Asia, with some of the public becoming questionable of the Western reaction on coronavirus outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Friday that the screen to stem the outbreak was a decrease, voicing alarm at a rise of cases with no apparent link to China.

A State Department official said that Russian operatives appeared to have been given “carte blanche” to attack the US reputation.

“Whether or not a particular theme is being directed at the highest levels doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that they have freelance ability to operate in this space to do whatever damage they can, which could have seismic implications.” 


The Asean Post
The Guardian

Rizwan Khan Niazi

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