Home Web internet Facebook and Instagram remove Chinese network following false COVID claims by “Swiss biologist”

Facebook and Instagram remove Chinese network following false COVID claims by “Swiss biologist”

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A smartphone with the Meta logo and a 3D printed Facebook logo is placed on a laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on October 28, 2021. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

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December 1 (Reuters) – Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O) said on Wednesday it had deleted accounts used by an influence operation originating in China which was promoting the claims of a fake “Swiss biologist “claiming the United States was interfering with research into the origins of COVID-19.

Meta said in a report that the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet.

The claims of “Swiss biologist” Wilson Edwards were widely cited by Chinese state media in July. In August, several Chinese newspapers deleted comments and deleted articles citing him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said it had found no evidence of his Swiss nationality.

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Meta said Facebook deleted Wilson Edwards’ account in August and has since deleted 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of its investigation. These deletions also remove the content that these entities have posted.

“We… were able to match the activity with individuals in Mainland China, including employees of a particular company in China, Sichuan Silence Information Technology Company Limited, as well as individuals associated with state-owned infrastructure companies. global threats, ”Meta’s head of global threats disruption, David Agranovich, told Reuters.

Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meta said it could not find any connection between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government.

The Silence Information website describes itself as a network and information security company that provides network security services to the activities of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and to the Chinese CNCERT, the key coordination team for the China’s cybersecurity emergency response.

On July 24, 10 hours after its inception, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account posted a message saying it had been informed that the United States was seeking to discredit the qualifications of World Health Organization scientists. working with China to probe the origins of COVID-19. .

Meta said the account’s operators are using virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to cover up its origin and are working to give Edwards a rounded personality.

The character’s original post was first shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts and then passed on by genuine users, most of whom were employees of Chinese state-owned infrastructure companies in more than 20 countries, said. said Meta.

“This is the first time that we are observing an operation that included a coordinated group of state employees to scale up in this way,” the report said. Meta said they found no evidence that the network has gained ground among genuine communities.

Chinese state media, from China Daily to the television news service CGTN, widely cited the July post as evidence that US President Joe Biden’s administration was politicizing the WHO. The administration said the joint WHO-China investigation lacked transparency. Read more

The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and a source of tension between China, the United States and other countries.

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Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and James Pearson in Hanoi; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Chris Sanders and David Gregorio

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.