Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic, US officials say.
The disinformation campaign promotes unfounded conspiracy theories that the United States is behind the Covid-19 outbreak, in an apparent bid to damage the US image around the world by seizing on health concerns. US State Department officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation said that false personas are being used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to advance Russian talking points in multiple languages. “Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence 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 circulating in recent weeks include allegations that the virus is a US effort to “wage economic war on China”, that it is a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA or part of a Western-led effort “to push anti-China messages”.