State-controlled Russian media and official government channels have been running a coordinated campaign of disinformation about the coronavirus, Politico reported.
According to the report, Russia’s campaign is promoting false health information and relies on misinformation and conspiracy narratives.
China is also reportedly running a global propaganda campaign, though its intent seems to be mainly to “deflect blame for the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and improve its international image”.
Politico cited a report from the European External Action Service’s StratCom division, which it said was due for publication on 21 April.
MyBroadband asked the European External Action Service (EEAS) for comment and a spokesperson said that Politico’s article was not actually based on a report that was due for publication. It was working with an internal document not intended for publication.
“We are however regularly publishing updates about trends in disinformation called snapshot overviews which are made available on www.euvsdisinfo.eu,” the lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy at EEAS told MyBroadband.
“The next one is being completed as we speak and should be published very soon.”
Update: The EEAS has published a short assessment of narratives and disinformation around the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
Russia pushed 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theories on social media
The EEAS report echoes concerns from liberal democracies all over the world that Russia amplified fringe conspiracy theories about 5G and the coronavirus.
The Associated Press reported that Russian state media outlets helped promote theories that 5G technology could cause cancer.
As a result of this coordinated effort from Russia, these theories started gaining traction in the United States in 2019.
According to the report, the conspiracy theories currently circulating on social media, which claim a link between the coronavirus and 5G, date back to January 2020 when a Belgian doctor suggested a link to COVID-19.
A separate report from Business Insider, which quoted sources in European law enforcement and security officials, raised concerns that state-sanctioned disinformation campaigns are helping to propagate the conspiracy theory that 5G causes COVID-19.
While the conspiracy theory may have developed organically, it was hijacked by “social media troublemakers and bot networks controlled by state actors”, a Dutch intelligence official was quoted as saying.
The official said that state actors responsible for spreading disinformation may include Russia, Iran, and others.
Cellphone towers destroyed
Besides the public health risks caused by misinformation about the coronavirus, there have already been other consequences due to the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theory.
Some UK residents who were taken in by the misinformation have set cellphone towers on fire.
According to The Guardian, around 100 cellphone towers have been vandalised. Not all of the towers that were destroyed had 5G equipment installed.
Following the attacks on UK cellular infrastructure, the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theories started appearing on social media in Dutch, Flemish, and German.
Similar incidents of arson have been reported in the Netherlands since 3 April. On 23 April, a 34 year-old man was arrested in connection with one such attack in Groningen. It is being investigated whether the suspect is responsible for more cellphone mast fires.