Oleksandra Tsekhanovska, a senior analyst at the Hybrid Threat Analysis Group of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, told Hromadske Radio that fakes about COVID-19 could be used for political purposes. The coronavirus pandemic has shown some changes in China’s disinformation system and an unprecedented level of synchronisation with Russia’s anti-coronavirus campaign.
Chipping and Other Conspiracy Theories
The conspiracy theory of chipping was one of the top coronavirus-related ones. There were a lot of them in general. We have seen their popularity in completely different communities, both in the States and in Europe, and in our country. This is not the only example of how tenacious conspiracy has been in the face of an infodemic. For example, if we talk about conspiracy theory, we can say that this is actually the period of their heyday. One could hear the version that the coronavirus is a biological weapon, that the COVID-19 virus is caused by 5G, that it is a conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies, that Bill Gates is responsible for the pandemic, that it is a punishment for the spiritless Western way of life they are trying to impose on us.
The theory to which I would pay special attention is that the coronavirus is allegedly a conspiracy aimed at universal compulsory vaccination. This opinion, in my opinion, is one of the most dangerous. After all, it is already becoming clear that the coronavirus is with us for a long time, and the vaccine is being actively developed. It will eventually allow us to somehow make this phenomenon more controlled and return to normal life. But what if people refuse vaccination en masse because we see how widespread panic and fear have been in these conditions? How will we fight then? After all, the anti-vaccination movement is more widespread and organised than we think. And it is a real problem, exacerbated by the fact that even improved communication by the Ministry of Health will not help solve it. Because such communities have a low level of trust in state bodies, and it is impossible to reach them directly.
Political Goal: the Russian Trail?
Conspiracy theories are one of the key segments of Russia’s disinformation as a system, as it is generally aimed at one of the Kremlin’s two strategic goals in the international arena’s information field. In this particular case, we can talk about an attempt to undermine critical thinking as such. And the promotion of conspiracy theories and support of the idea that, in reality, the truth as such does not exist. But there are many different truths, including the Kremlin, which is no worse than others. It plays into the hands of the Kremlin.
Russia and China – Synchronous Actions
But the Kremlin was not the only one actively involved in spreading conspiracy theories. We can still talk about how Moscow and Beijing coordinated their actions. The coronavirus pandemic has shown some changes in China’s disinformation system and an unprecedented level of synchronisation between the two campaigns. Although we cannot say that this was a joint operation by Moscow and Beijing, in many ways they have become situational allies and are trying to support and strengthen each other. This is especially evident in the theory that coronavirus infection is a biological weapon developed in the United States. This theory was first launched by the Russians and then picked up by representatives of Beijing. The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China published the relevant accusations in his Twitter, which in turn were spread by Moscow. And, in some places, she presented them as the official position of the Chinese authorities.
After the start of the pandemic, more and more publications reprinted from Russian media controlled by the Kremlin could be seen on Chinese news resources. In general, Chinese profiles on Facebook have become more active in distributing materials from Russia Today and Sputnik.
Also, from late December to early March, Chinese media published more than 7,000 articles about the coronavirus, in English only and only on Facebook. And many of them were devoted to promoting the idea of how effectively China dealt with the epidemic. This is another thing that Beijing and Moscow have in common.