On Wednesday Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc stated that it has removed accounts that were used by an influence operation emerging in China that increased claims of a fake “Swiss biologist” stating the US was interfering in the hunt for Covid-19 origins.
Meta mentioned in a report that the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and selected English-speaking people in the US and UK and Chinese-speaking people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet.
Claims by Wilson Edwards, “Swiss biologist” were highly quoted by Chinese state media in July. Many Chinese newspapers in August removed comments and even deleted articles that were quoting him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing stated that it had found no proof of him as a citizen of Switzerland.
Meta stated that Facebook removed Wilson Edwards’s account in August itself and has since removed almost 524 accounts on Facebook, 20 pages, 4 groups, and 86 comment on Instagram as part of their investigation.
“We…were able to link the activity to individuals in mainland China, including employees of a particular company in China, the Sichuan Silence Information Technology Company Limited, as well as some individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies around the world,” Meta’s head of global threat disruption David Agranovich stated to the Reuters. Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not straight away respond to a request for comment.
The Chinese foreign ministry and internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China even did not straight away respond to any requests for comment.
Meta stated that it had not found any certain connection between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government. Silence Information’s website explains itself as a network and information security organization that gives network security to China’s Ministry of Public Security activities and China’s CNCERT, the significant coordination team for China’s cybersecurity emergency response.
10 hours after its creation, on 24th July, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account uploaded a post stating that he had been informed the US was asking to discredit the qualifications of WHO scientists working with China to look for the origins of Covid-19.
Meta stated that the account’s operators used VPN (virtual private network) to hide its origin and made certain efforts to grant Edwards a rounded personality.
The person’s original post was at first shared and liked by several fake Facebook accounts, and then later forwarded by actual users, most of which belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in moreover 20 nations, Meta stated. “This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” the report stated. Meta stated that it did not find proof that the network got any traction among genuine companies.
State-run media of China, from China Daily to TV news service CGTN, cited the July post widely as proof that United States President Joe Biden’s administration was politicizing the WHO. The administration had stated that the joint WHO-China investigation did not have transparency. The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 stays a mystery and a source of tension between the US, China and other nations.