Claws out for China over attempt to blame Covid pandemic on US lobsters

·2-min read
China suggests Maine lobster shipment caused Covid pandemic in latest attempt to shift blame onto US - Robert F. Bukaty /AP
China suggests Maine lobster shipment caused Covid pandemic in latest attempt to shift blame onto US - Robert F. Bukaty /AP

A network of Twitter accounts linked to China has claimed that Covid-19 was imported to the Wuhan seafood market via a shipment of Maine lobsters from the US, a disinformation researcher has discovered.

The theory is the latest to emerge from Beijing in an effort to deflect and obfuscate any investigation into the virus’s true origin.

Zha Liyou, the Chinese consul general based in Kolkata, was the first to tweet the claim in mid-September. It was then disseminated through Twitter in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, Korean and even Latin.

Marcel Schliebs, a researcher in disinformation based at Oxford University, says he has uncovered over 550 accounts which shared the theory using near identical wording.

He said all the accounts would share messages at similar times each day between 8 and 11am Beijing time.

“Attribution is really difficult,” Mr Schliebs told NBC News. “But we can see there’s a coordinated effort, and that it’s a pro-Chinese narrative.”

Mr Schliebs said he was able to uncover the network after noticing that some of the accounts were “unsophisticated sock puppets” with “very few or zero followers”, while others appeared to be legitimate accounts that have been hacked for the purpose of spreading disinformation.

“It looks crude and not sophisticated when you look at individual accounts. But these kinds of networks are designed to try and get topics to trend on social media,” Bret Schafer, the head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told NBC.

Mr Schliebs passed his findings to Twitter, which said it had suspended many of the accounts.

Beijing has variously claimed that Covid-19 originally leaked from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, and that Covid originally arrived from Russia via rail cargo.

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