The German Marshall Fund (GMF), a US think tank, is reporting that China is exploiting search engines to push conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19. According to a GMF report:
October 5, 2021 Since the earliest days of the pandemic, Chinese state officials and media outlets have disseminated conspiracy narratives claiming that COVID-19 originated at Fort Detrick—a U.S. army research facility in Maryland that has been the target of disinformation campaigns for more than four decades. But Chinese efforts to pump conspiracy narratives about the lab into the information bloodstream have accelerated in recent months in response the Biden administration’s renewed interest in the possibility that the virus leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. According to data collected on ASD’s Hamilton 2.0 dashboard, Chinese government officials and state media outlets have posted more than 1,000 tweets, articles, and videos about Fort Detrick since May, flooding social media platforms with elaborate conspiracy theories that have been thoroughly debunked—and thus largely ignored—by credible media outlets. The amplification of conspiracy theories by Chinese state media and officials is not in itself remarkable, and Fort Detrick is far from Beijing’s only target of disinformation narratives about the origins of the virus. What is remarkable about the Fort Detrick narratives is their foothold in powerful, influential places: search engines. For people encountering the world of Fort Detrick conspiracies for the first time, turning to a search engine would be a common step in the search for information. Unfortunately, popular search engines could lead consumers directly to the very sources of Fort Detrick conspiracy theories. In August and September, Google News results for “Fort Detrick” were dominated by CGTN and the Global Times, two Chinese state-run outlets that are central to Beijing’s information operations. In late August, the frequency and volume of misleading stories about Fort Detrick reached enough of a peak to also dominate Google’s Top Stories feature. Searches on Bing News have not fared much better, with Global Times and China Daily appearing in top results.
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