The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) has issued a report concluding that China was the leading actor using disinformation in an attempt to control the narrative around the origins of the COVID-19 virus. According to the DFRL press release, Iran, Russia, and the US Trump administration were also subjects of the DFRL analysis:
February 15, 2021 As part of a nine-month joint research project by the DFRLab and the Associated Press, this report examines the information environments of four countries — China, the United States, Russia, and Iran — during the first six months of the COVID-19 outbreak and the false narratives that took hold there. The report focuses on how varying, unverified, and outright false narratives that the virus was a bioweapon or the result of a lab accident spread globally on social media and beyond, and the geopolitical consequences of those narratives. One version of this narrative, for example — that it was a biological weapon released from a lab in China — gained particular popularity in the United States. Speculation about the source of the virus moved from unverified social media accounts and conspiracy theory outlets to government officials, political influencers, and others, often leading to further rounds of speculation across the information ecosystem. Some of these narratives were outright false, while others constituted legitimate, but unverified concerns regarding the possibility of the virus being accidentally released from a Chinese lab. There was also much domestic pushback against these narratives, given the open and democratic nature of the US and its information space.
Read the full report here.
Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reporting on various state actor COVID disinformation campaigns has included:
- A report from October 2020 on a US Department of Homeland Security analysis concluding that Chinese operatives were probably waging disinformation campaigns using overt and covert tactics—including social media trolls— to shift responsibility for the pandemic to other countries, including the United States.
- A report from November 2020 that the UK’s Signal Intelligence Agency was preparing to launch a “major offensive cyber operation against state-sponsored propaganda aimed at undermining research on the COVID-19 vaccine.”
- A report from January on a New York Times and ProPublica investigation into state-sponsored Chinese disinformation efforts centered on the Covid pandemic.
- A report from January on a CNN analyst’s view of Russian efforts to spread COVID-related disinformation.
- A report from January on an EU analysis concluding that pro-Kremlin media are trying to generate support for the Russian Sputnik V COVID vaccine by shifting its disinformation narratives.
- A report from this month on an Australian think-tank’s analysis of Chinese and Russian influence campaigns aimed at undermining the Covid-19 vaccination programs.