Facebook, Instagram Remove Chinese Accounts Over Fake ‘Swiss Biologist’ COVID-19 Origin Claims

Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Wednesday that it has removed accounts used by an influence operation originating in China that promoted claims of a fake “Swiss biologist”, saying the United States was interfering in the search for the origin of COVID-19.

meta One report said the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain, and Chinese-speaking 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 removed the comments and articles quoting him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing found no evidence of him as a Swiss citizen.

meta said Facebook Wilson removed the Edwards account in August and has since removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, four groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of its investigation. Such removals also remove content that these entities have posted.

“We were able to link activity to individuals in mainland China, including employees of a specialized company in China, Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co., Ltd., as well as some individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies around the world. Are included.” David Agranovich, Meta’s head of global threat disruption, told Reuters.

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

Meta said it had not found any links between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government.

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

On July 24, 10 hours after its creation, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account uploaded a post informing them that the United States was trying to discredit the qualifications of World Health Organization scientists working with China. is demanding. COVID-19,

Meta stated that the account’s operator uses a virtual private network (vpn) infrastructure to hide his origins and to give Edwards a rounded personality.

Meta said the person’s original post was initially shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts, and was later forwarded by authentic users, most of whom were employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in more than 20 countries. .

“This is the first time we have seen an operation that involves raising a coordinated group of state employees in such a way,” the report said. Meta said it did not find evidence that the network gained any traction among authentic communities.

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

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

© Thomson Reuters 2021