Another wild claim claims that 5G technology is helping to spread the new coronavirus around the world.
These two ideas stem from disinformation campaigns implemented on social networks like Facebook and Twitter by “state actors” linked to countries like Russia and China, according to experts.
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And as far-fetched as ideas may seem, in the midst of a single pandemic threat, they could successfully erode democratic institutions and strengthen the influence of authoritarian states, experts warned.
“The COVID-19 5G theory seems that Russia started, and now it is being pushed by MAGA robots,” said Stephanie Carvin, professor at Carleton University and former national security analyst for the Canadian Intelligence Service. security.
“But I’m more concerned with the theory of biological weapons. The overarching goal of any conspiracy theory is to undermine trust in public institutions. And in this case, during a pandemic, it could cause real harm. “
Global News asked Carvin to comment on its ongoing monitoring of online disinformation campaigns and the results of a new study on COVID-19 disinformation campaigns by Datametrex, a social media analytics company.
Datametrex studied more than five million social media posts in March, looking for the sources and facilitators of the conspiracy theories that spread via social media and messaging apps like Twitter and WhatsApp.
The company investigated whether so-called “hordes of bots” controlled by authoritarian states were responsible for spreading accounts of pandemic conspiracies via accounts controlled by machines. But they discovered that it was in fact well-known officials of the Chinese government – with limited but effective tweets – who succeeded in launching Russian-style propaganda in discussions on Western social media.
Russian state media and online accounts first argued that the virus causing COVID-19 originated from a US biological weapon in February, Datametrex discovered.
But when Chinese diplomats tweeted or retweeted an article on the theory, it took off.
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According to Datametrex, the most powerful of the nine tweets was a tweet linked to a Global Research story by Lijian Zhao, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs with more than 500,000 Twitter followers.
“This article is very important to all of us,” said Zhao’s tweet. “Please read it and retweet it.
“The narrative change of the conspiracy on Twitter in English begins with a tweet on March 12 by a Chinese official, Lijian Zhao, by inserting a link to a pro-conspiracy article in globalresearch.ca, a site that previous searches of the NATO have linked to Russian propaganda efforts, “says the Datametrex report.
According to Datametrex, some Chinese embassies and ambassadors around the world have coordinated to retweet Zhao’s first tweet on March 12 “(as) an information warfare act.”
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Zhao’s tweet has been retweeted thousands of times, including by Chinese ambassadors in Egypt and Botswana, and Chinese embassies in Panama and Manila, the Philippines.
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Zachary Devereaux of Datametrex said that Russia and China want to shift the blame for the pandemic to the United States.
“There are still conspiracy theories around major events such as pandemics, and COVID-19 is no exception. What Chinese diplomats have done is to encourage a particular conspiracy theory that has diverted the blame from China, and this effort has been successful, “said Devereaux.
“Now the theory is available on social media, and the consequences could be significant. If citizens of countries like India and China believe in it, it could lead to major changes in international politics, businesses and foreign nationals living abroad. “
Global Research has yet to respond to a request for comment from Global News.
In an interview, Carvin said that Global Research is known in Western intelligence as one of the websites suspected of being involved in the “laundering” of Russian disinformation.
“Whether with or without wanting it, Global Research launches the kind of stories that actors and institutions linked to Russia are pushing,” said Carvin. “So you have” black campaigns “of robots or troll farms connected to Russia. And then Global Research laundered it so that it looked like a legitimate source. “
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Russian state actors have clearly pushed “a lot of anti-5G theories over the coronavirus”, with some success because the theories have “worked well with the anti-vax crowd,” Carvin said.
Since 5G technology is considered crucial to emerging businesses and state security, it is possible that Russian disinformation is aimed at delaying the deployment of this technology in Western countries, said Carvin. And now, these theories seem to have been adapted to play on the uncertainty surrounding the new coronavirus, she said.
Theories generally argue that the spread of 5G technology has a detrimental impact on the human immune system, according to an explanation from Cornell University’s Alliance for Science blog.
“If enough people start to believe that COVID-19 is not a real virus, they will stop trusting scientific authorities and governments trying to stop the pandemic,” says the report from the Cornell University blog. “They can even contribute to its spread if they stop obeying social distancing and quarantine measures.”
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For example, a recent 5G conspiracy tweet from an account linked to prevailing conspiracy theories suggests that the diseases have coincided with a number of advances in cell technology.
The Cornell University blog notes that a number of 5G towers in the UK have already been vandalized in attacks that some believe are linked to 5G COVID-19 theories.
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In response to questions from Global News about this story, Ryan Foreman of CSE, Canada’s cybersecurity agency, said that the agency is using its mandated cybersecurity and foreign intelligence powers to protect Canadians from “actors of opportunistic cyber threats trying to take advantage of Canadians “of increased levels of concern and legitimate fears around COVID-19 to spread disinformation. “
“To be clear, 5G technology is in no way conceivable related to the spread of COVID 19,” said Foreman. “During crises, such as the COVID-19 situation, conspiracies and other unfounded and unnecessary theories are bound to emerge.”
A pandemic “displaces mental resources”
Ross Otto, professor of psychology at McGill University, studies the extraordinary mental conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He said it is possible that the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus may affect critical thinking ability, which may have consequences for the spread of wild stories about the virus.
“The impact on the people we are currently studying is that all of these conditions – an anxious and fearful state or excessive rumination about personal risk – can impair cognitive function,” said Otto. “Worry moves mental resources that you could normally use.”
Otto said he and his colleagues in other cities are collecting data to test whether citizens living in COVID-19 epicenters such as Montreal or New York may have more severe cognitive impairment than people living in remote areas with very few COVID-19 infections.
“I have colleagues from the United States who have family members who believe that, to some extent, this virus is a fabricated thing,” said Otto. “You can see how this is the kind of story that could spread quite easily. “
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