United States intelligence officials reportedly believe Chinese agents used social media and text messages in March to help fan the flames surrounding the coronavirus panic, the New York Times reported.
The New York Times cited six U.S. intelligence officials from different agencies on Wednesday who claimed agents from the Chinese government used social media messages and texts to American citizens as a means to spread disinformation, including that the Trump administration was planning to deploy troops to prevent riots and looters, as well as impose strict curfews.
“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” one of the messages read, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”
China denied involvement in spreading the information, saying, “The relevant statements are complete nonsense and not worth refuting.”
“We urge the U.S. to stop political manipulation, get its own house in order and focus more on fighting the epidemic and boosting the economy,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news conference last week.
Two of the U.S. officials who spoke with the New York Times said they don’t believe China created the messages but rather “amplified” those already in circulation. The messages then grabbed enough attention from unsuspecting citizens and were spread on their own, especially on Facebook.
The officials, who included both civil servants and political appointees, claimed the Chinese operatives were using Russian techniques to create fake social media accounts targeted at U.S. citizens who would believe and then spread the disinformation. The U.S. officials added that encrypted platforms, such as WhatsApp or Signal, were employed in the campaigns, making it much harder to track than other social media apps.
After rumors began swirling on social media in March that the federal government was considering a national quarantine, the White House’s National Security Council issued a statement declaring the widespread social media posts “FAKE.”
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