Ed. Note: Social media is still somewhat the Wild West when it comes to rules and regulations, but it is troubling that public figures are given exceptions to post unsubstantiated information. The Hill reported today that Twitter refuses to remove posts by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lijian Zhao implying the U.S. military may have brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan, saying it doesn’t violate their policy of allowing public figures to comment on political and foreign policy issues. Separately, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is fending off a disinformation campaign aimed at making Americans believe there will be a “national lockdown or a national quarantine.” The swirl of narratives surrounding the coronavirus has even led the World Health Organization to dub it an “infodemic.”
BY CHRIS MILLS RODRIGO – 03/23/20 03:32 PM EDT
Misinformation about the coronavirus spread by Chinese government officials does not violate Twitter’s policies, a spokesperson for the company told The Hill Monday.
In particular, tweets from Lijian Zhao, an official spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insinuating that the U.S. military may have spread the coronavirus to Wuhan, China, will remain up.
Twitter’s spokesperson pointed to the company’s position of giving public figures broad exemptions to many of its policies.
“Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” the site reads.
BY JUSTIN WISE – 03/22/20 02:04 PM EDT
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Sunday that false reports that the U.S. is imposing a national quarantine because of the novel coronavirus are part of a “disinformation campaign” possibly stemming from Russia.
Speaking on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” Wolf acknowledged that he’s been contacted several times about text messages circulating that say “we’re going to have a national lockdown or a national quarantine.”
“I would just say, that’s absolutely false. It’s not true,” he said. “And it is part of a disinformation campaign.”
“What we know, whether it’s Russia, or whether it’s other cyber actors … [is] they like to sow discord on any controversial issue,” he added. “So, it doesn’t just have to be elections. It can be any issue. And we’re seeing that now with the coronavirus.”
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Hill.
Dozens of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, its origins and ways to treat it have proliferated in recent months, causing what the World Health Organization has described as an “infodemic.”
Text messages and emails including messages about an impending national shutdown began spreading around the country earlier this month, causing the White House’s National Security Council to share a statement on Twitter calling them “absolutely false.” The administration has contended that “those wanting to cause fear and confusion in our country” are behind the disinformation.
Wolf urged Americans to be more careful with the information they’re reading and sharing about the virus, noting that it should mainly come from federal and state officials.
Social media companies have said that they’ve seen no coordinated disinformation campaigns on their platforms targeting the coronavirus pandemic. Companies such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Reddit said last week they are working jointly to combat the spread of fraudulent claims about the virus.