by Chris White
Twitter has declined to take action against Chinese officials who spread coronavirus misinformation even after the company fact-checked President Donald Trump for suggesting California’s mail-in ballots are fraudulent.
A tweet from Chinese politician Lijian Zhao in March suggesting that the U.S. inserted coronavirus into China has not been removed or fact-checked. Twitter has previously said that Zhao’s tweets do not violate the company’s rules, but Twitter updated its policies on May 11, effectively making tweets from world leaders subject to misinformation labels.
Twitter did not immediately responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on Zhao’s tweet following the fact check on Trump.
Twitter’s fact check states: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to articles refuting Trump’s claim that California’s move to offer mail-in ballots will lead to widespread voter fraud.
Trump’s tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots,” a Twitter spokeswoman told the Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday.
“This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month,” she added before citing a May 11 Twitter blog post announcing the new labeling system.
The spokeswoman reiterated the company’s existing rules but did not provide a reason for speaking anonymously.
Twitter announced in a May 11 blog post that moderators will filter such information through three categories: misleading information, disputed claims and unverified claims. Misleading information will carry a label or outright removal, depending on the severity, while unverified claims will not have any action taken against them. Disputed claims will contain a label or a warning.
The label system “will also apply to Tweets sent before today,” the blog post said.
“Moving forward, we may use these labels and warning messages to provide additional explanations or clarifications in situations where the risks of harm associated with a Tweet are less severe but where people may still be confused or misled by the content,” Twitter noted in the post. Twitter used the policy change to just the Trump fact check, a first for any big tech company.
Zhao’s tweet remains without a similar designation.
Zhao, the spokesman and deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, tweeted in early March that, “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” He also falsely suggested in the tweet that Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield was “arrested.”
Zhao was one of the first Chinese officials on Twitter to push a theory suggesting coronavirus originated at the U.S. Army, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The theory accelerated after other Chinese embassy accounts in France and Jordan retweeted Zhao’s post, the data show. He’s not the only Chinese official not to receive a factcheck or label of any kind.
“Mr. President is right. Some people do need to be injected with, or at least gargle with it. That way they won’t spread the virus, lies and hatred when talking,” Hu Zhaoming, a spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party, wrote on Twitter in April. He was referring to reports of Trump wondering if an “injection” of “disinfectant” could help with people with the virus.
China has posted 90,000 tweets mentioning the pandemic since the beginning of April from 200 diplomatic and state-run media accounts, data from the dashboard shows. Schafer’s analysis also shows that Twitter content from Chinese accounts doubled since Januar
The White House has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the fact check.
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Chris White is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Xi Jinping” by Palácio do Planalto. CC BY 2.0.