World

Researchers find China propaganda accounts tried to blame pandemic on lobsters from Maine

A COVID-19 origin theory was made by a Chinese diplomat, who said that the virus originated in Maine from the virus jumping from lobsters to humans.

Marcel Schliebs, who is a disinformation researcher at the University of Oxford, had been watching the messaging from Chinese diplomats on Twitter for about a year and a half. In mid-September, his tracking paid off when he found a tweet claiming the origin of the virus was in the U.S. and not in China, as many are led to believe.

Chinese consul general in Kolkata, India, Zha Liyou, tweeted an “unfounded claim” that the virus originated with lobster from Maine that were shipped to Wuhan, China in November 2019 (NBC). Schliebs shared with NBC that he found that there were at least 550 accounts who released a “nearly identical” message, which was translated into several languages, including English, Spanish, French, Polish, Korean and even Latin. The message was shared around the same time each day- between 8a.m. and 11a.m. Chinese Standard Time. 

The Maine CDC has refuted the claims, saying, “It appears that these claims make an unfounded connection between individuals who required treatment for vaping-related lung injuries in a Maine hospital and the fact that lobsters live in the waters near that hospital.” Spokesperson Robert Long of the Maine CDC called the theory “a right load of codswallop.”

Bret Schafer is the head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which is a sect of the nonprofit German Marshall Fund of the United States. He weighed in saying, “This is the third or fourth major different redirection Chinese officials have gone in to try and somehow pin the Covid outbreak on the U.S. It looks crude and not sophisticated when you look at individual accounts. But these kinds of networks are designed to try and get topics to trend on social media.” He suggested that the accounts have been successful in confusing people.

Pro-China accounts have been attempting to push unfounded theories about the virus’s starting place. Schliebs said, “Attribution is really difficult,” adding that, “ we can see there’s a coordinated effort, and that it’s a pro-Chinese narrative.”

There have been a number of theories from pro-China accounts claiming that the virus entered China through frozen food imports (Independent). Liyou, who was the first to post the most recent theory, has also suggested that the U.S. military be investigated for their part in spreading the virus. Schliebs reported to Twitter a spreadsheet of accounts “behaving inauthentically”, which led to the accounts being suspended.

ARTICLE: RITA VOGT

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: TELEGRAPH

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