EU officially names China as a source of coronavirus disinformation for first time

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In a press release published yesterday, the European Commission announced it was assessing its steps to tackle disinformation, claiming that there has been “a massive wave of false or misleading information” throughout the pandemic.

The statement goes on to mention that “foreign actors” have been involved in disinformation campaigns globally, and specifically mentions China and Russia in relation to this.

The Commission said: “Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighbourhood, and globally.”

Politico reports that this is the first time the Commission has mentioned Beijing as a source of online disinformation linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its report, the Commission outlines steps that should be taken globally to combat disinformation, including urging online platforms to provide monthly reports what actions they are taking to achieve this.

The Commission also said it would “enhance support for monitoring violations of press freedom and advocacy for a safer media environment”.

The statement went on to distinguish ‘disinformation’ from ‘misinformation’.

The Commission said that disinformation was defined as false or misleading content that is published with intention. By contrast, misinformation is unintentional, it said.

High Representative / Vice-President Josep Borrell said that disinformation campaigns are a “recognised weapon” used by state and non-state actors.

Borrell, who is also Europe’s foreign affairs chief, added: “Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill.

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“We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices.”

And Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said that online platforms need to “step up their efforts” to combat false information.

She said: “Disinformation campaigns have hit Europe during the coronavirus pandemic. They originated from within as well as outside the EU.

“To fight disinformation, we need to mobilise all relevant players from online platforms to public authorities, and support independent fact checkers and media.”


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The recommendations for online platforms – presumably companies like Facebook and Twitter – did not appear to be binding, though Politico reports that rules for such platforms will be published by the end of the year.

Politico adds that Jourová, speaking to reporters in relation to alleged disinformation from Beijing, declined to comment on whether EU officials had seen coordinated inauthentic online activity from China that resembled Russian activity in recent years.

A spokesperson from the Chinese Mission to the European Union said that China is “always opposed to the fabrication and dissemination of disinformation,” according to Politico.

Earlier in April, the EU faced questions over allegations that a report on Chinese Covid-19 disinformation had been watered down following pressure be Beijing.

Dutch MEP Bart Groothuis wrote to the EU’s Josep Borrell calling for a “formal and full explanation” about the report, the Guardian said.

It emerged after the New York Times claimed that EU officials had “delayed and then rewrote the document in ways that diluted the focus on China”, said its reporter Matt Apuzzo.

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