WaPo: Russia Pushing Coronavirus Misinformation To Endanger Americans

Kremlin.ru/CC BY 4.0

JakeThomas

A top State Dept. official said that Russia-linked actors are pushing coronavirus conspiracy theories on social media.

Russian actors are behind social media campaigns seeking to spread misinformation about the coronavirus using “swarms of online, false personas,” a top State Department official said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported that Lea Gabrielle, the coordinator of the government’s Global Engagement Center, told Congress that the “entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation is at play.”

She also said actors tied to Russia “through ‘state proxy websites,’ official state-owned media and fake accounts online” have engaged in an effort to “take advantage of a health crisis, where people are terrified worldwide, to try to advance their priorities.”

Both Russia and China represent growing threats online, The Post reported, but Gabrielle told lawmakers that the Kremlin in particular “seeks to weaken its adversaries by manipulating the information environment in nefarious ways, by polarizing political conversations, and attempting to destroy the public’s faith in good governance, independent media, and democratic principles.”

The Global Engagement Center reportedly analyzed millions of tweets between January 10 and February 20 in countries excluding the United States and found that “known [coronavirus] conspiracy theories amounted to about 7 percent of the Twitter conversation over that period.”

State Department officials concluded that the falsehoods were “potentially impactful on the broader social media conversation,” The Post reported.

The State Department made similar accusations last month, The Post noted, but it has received criticism from tech companies who say the government has offered no evidence to back up its claims.

Twitter questioned the manner in which the State Department had conducted its research on Thursday — information that was only shared with social media giant after repeated requests.

Earlier this week, the company said it is “not seeing significant coordinated platform manipulation efforts around these issues.”

“We always welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the government agencies tasked with protecting the integrity of the 2020 election; however, non-peer reviewed research using our public API can be deeply flawed,” said Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough.

“We’d welcome the opportunity to learn more about the methodology, as well as engage in future research,” she added.

Read the full report.

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