RECOMMENDED READING: “Weaponized: How Rumors About Covid-19’s Origins Led To A Narrative Arms Race”

February 19th, 2021 14:39

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.