China is exploiting the coronavirus to sow discord among Western allies while building itself up, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned recently.
“China and other authoritarian governments have promoted false claims about the origins of the virus in an attempt to shift blame overseas and divide free societies against themselves,” reads CISA’s May 8 “insights” sheet. “Common tactics they use include censoring news, injecting false narratives onto social media platforms, and promoting slick government-produced videos.”
CISA also called attention to what it said was Chinese state-backed media using a variety of social media platforms to promote content emphasizing claims the country is rapidly controlling the virus, and suggesting the U.S. and other Western countries have failed in their response.
CISA took on the role of combating disinformation following reports from the intelligence community that Russia was interfering in the 2016 presidential contest and the designation of elections as critical infrastructure.
The agency has pushed social media companies to take more responsibility for content promoted on their platforms. Today’s notice seemed to take a stance on an issue that caused some vacillation among tech leaders.
“False information about COVID-19 treatments continue to circulate on social media, including potentially extremely harmful suggestions to drink bleach or chlorine dioxide, to use vitamin C or boiled garlic, or that illicit drug activity can ‘cure’ the virus,” CISA wrote.
During an April 23 press briefing, President Trump famously suggested that injecting disinfectant, and introducing ultraviolet or powerful light under a person’s skin, could get rid of a COVID-19 infection “in one minute.”
Trump himself could have been a victim of disinformation. According to the New York Times, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a month before in March said posts promoting the use of bleach as a cure for the disease would be removed from the platform as they clearly threaten public health.
But the Times reported that the number of social media posts making similar claims ballooned following the president’s remarks. And that Facebook as well as Twitter and YouTube, refused to take down posts echoing the comments. The companies said this is because the president was not directly instructing the public to follow the suggestion.
The claims that fifth-generation networking technology spreads the virus, and that the National Guard Bureau would be “supporting nationwide quarantines” also made CISA’s list.
Among mitigations for the disinformation threat around COVID-19, CISA suggested going to trusted websites such as coronavirus.gov, and thinking before linking.
“Take a moment to let your emotions cool down before sharing anything online,” the agency advises.