US officials are claiming that thousands of 'Russian-linked' social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to promote disinformation about coronavirus - including a theory that the US is behind the outbreak, according to The Guardian, which calls it an "apparent bid to damage America's image around the world."
The accounts in question have popped up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, according to State department officials - with some of the suspected bad actors claiming that the United States is waging "economic war on China," and that the virus is a CIA-manufactured biological weapon.
Several thousand online accounts – previously identified for airing Russian-backed messages on major events such as the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France and Chile’s mass demonstrations – are posting “near identical” messages about the coronavirus, according to a report prepared for the state department’s Global Engagement Center and seen by the AFP.
The accounts are run by humans, not bots, and post at similar times in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French. They can be linked back to Russian proxies, or carry messages similar to Russian-backed outlets such as RT and Sputnik, the report said.
“In this case, we were able to see their full disinformation ecosystem in effect, including state TV, proxy websites and thousands of false social media personas all pushing the same themes,” said Lea Gabrielle, the head of the Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with tracking and exposing propaganda and disinformation. -The Guardian
"Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns," said Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.
"By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response," Reeker added.
We would note that The Guardian, nor their sources, have provided any direct evidence of these claims.
The Guardian then does its job to calm the masses - noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) says 80% of people who contract COVID-19 come down with a 'mild respiratory illness,' and likens it to the 2003 Sars virus, "which was thought to have come from bats."
In four out of five people, Covid-19 causes only mild respiratory illness, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. But in some, the virus can cause severe respiratory illness including pneumonia. In the worst cases, it can cause respiratory failure.
Covid-19 has killed more than 2,340 people, mostly in China, and infected more than 76,000. The US has tested more than 400 people and found 14 confirmed cases, mostly linked to travelers.
A similar outbreak in 2003 involved the Sars virus, which was thought to have come from bats.
Of course, The Guardian makes no mention of the Wuhan, China level-4 bioweapons lab located less than a mile from the wet market where the first cluster of cases was traced to - so looks like they're going with the 'naturally occurring' bat theory.
According to the report, the Russia-linked coronavirus disinformation campaign "has parallels with previous conspiracy theories traced to Moscow, including a KGB disinformation campaign in the 1980s that convinced many around the world that US scientists created the HIV virus that causes Aids."
The Guardian reports that US officials believe the alleged Russian disinfo campaign is complicating efforts to respond to the epidemic - particularly in Asia and Africa, as people have become suspicious of the West.