Facebook says China made up fake Swiss scientist to claim the US was blaming it for Covid-19
- Meta, the Facebook parent, says a Covid-19 disinformation campaign sprouted on Facebook this past summer.
- A fake Swiss biologist, Wilson Edwards, spread lies that the US was pushing the WHO to blame COVID-19 on China.
- Many of the accounts sharing the claims were fake, but some were real Chinese state employees.
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A fake Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards — who sought to convince the world that the United States was attempting to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on China — was actually the Chinese government, Facebook said this week.
The claims were allowed to spread from July 24 to August 10, and stories of the US' "intimidation" were picked up across global social media and Chinese state media outlets like the Global Times and People's Daily, Facebook's parent company Meta said in its yearly adversarial threat report.
It wasn't until August 10 that Facebook took Edwards' account down after the Beijing-based Swiss Embassy confirmed there was no record of a citizen named Wilson Edwards.
The account was created just 12 hours before it started posting its fake claims on both Facebook and Twitter. The disinformation campaign that ensued "was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona" that sprouted in China itself, Meta said.
The account claimed that World Health Organisation sources and researchers had complained about pressure and intimidation from the US regarding the agency's plans to study where and how the coronavirus disease originated. There is still no official scientific consensus on exactly where and how Covid-19 originated, a topic that has become contentious and political.
"Our investigation uncovered that almost the entire initial spread of the "Wilson Edwards" story on our platform was inauthentic — the work of a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China," Meta said.
The company said there was a network of accounts amplifying the fake news, many of which were inauthentic, but some were real and belonged to "employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies" across the globe, including in mainland China.
Meta said this is the first time it has discovered an operation that "included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way." The company emphasised repeatedly, however, that there was no "noticeable authentic engagement" due to the inauthentic amplification efforts, and the false claims were mainly elevated by Chinese state media.
The fake biologist was just one of a series of accounts from around the world that were negatively impacting users and society, Meta said. In November alone, the company said it removed accounts and linked suspected coordinated inauthentic behaviour to the Belarusian KGB, as well as other incidents in Vietnam, Poland, and Palestine.
The report also comes amidst mounting public pressure against Meta over what critics say is harm posed to society from its various social platforms.
The company has been accused of facilitating the spread of misinformation, including lies about Covid-19 and vaccines, as well as elections and other issues.