The Coronavirus Crisis and Information War

By Defense.Info

Clearly, the liberal democracies are being tested not just in terms of dealing with the physical aspects of the Coronavirus crisis but in terms of shaping an effective way ahead for the liberal democracies.

And part of that challenge is the information war which the 21st century authoritarian states are engaging in while the liberal democracies shape a way ahead.

As Jim Carafano has put it in a recent piece: “Beijing has launched a PR blitz to deflect attention from its fatally flawed handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“But no amount of spin can alter the reality that the Chinese Communist Party’s brand—as well as the Chinese economy—has taken another body blow. The latest round of propaganda is so ludicrous, it smacks of desperation born of weakness.”

Guy Taylor in a recent Washington Times piece highlighted how the authoritarian powers are working the information war in the current crisis.

ChinaRussia and Iran are flooding the global information space with false claims about the new coronavirus, according to U.S. officials, who say one of the biggest lies — that the virus that causes COVID-19 is a U.S. bioweapon and was brought to China by U.S. Army personnel — is just the latest in a “surge of propaganda” aimed at undermining America’s image on the world stage.

 Beijing, Moscow and Tehran are using a vast web of social media accounts, fake news outlets and state-controlled global satellite media to promote false claims by academics and, at times, government officials to blame Washington for the crisis now gripping most of humanity.

The head of a key State Department counterdisinformation office said U.S. officials are ramping up their own efforts to counter lies about the new coronavirus that were first seeded by Russia in January and that China is now pushing in a bid to make Beijing appear as a superior global power to the United States.

With regard to Russia, Putin’s clearing NGOs out of Russia during his rule has prepared him well for information war for there is no credible information coming out from Russia on the real state of its own crisis.

With a country the size of Russia having cases on the scale of Luxembourg does challenge credibility.

And the lock down of Chinese society with both new and old means used by the Chinese Communist Party and claiming the superiority of their system underscores that reliable information is not a major Chinese export but viruses clearly are.

Taylor quoted a U.S. State Department official with regard to what the Administration seeks to do in response.

“We are going to make a concerted and public effort to counter disinformation by any regime on this because there are lasting consequences.

“The Chinese and Russians and Iranians are putting out these conspiracy theories and false narratives.

“It is deeply irresponsible, not just for America, but for the world. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that is unprecedented. The fact that these regimes are taking the time to deflect blame from their own actions is deeply irresponsible.”

Our recent story of how the disinformation campaign is proceeding in Africa suggests that the conflict is global, not simply directed at the liberal democracies themselves.

Taylor quoted an Administration official with regard to a way ahead.

Exposing previous examples of disinformation by questionable sources, she said, is part of the effort to “flood the space” with accurate information. That, she said, can involve “engaging third-party credible voices, for example, non-U.S. government voices to be able to get the truth out there.”

Third-party voices can include fact-checking organizations, nongovernment organizations, investigative journalists, other governments, local community leaders or social media influencers, she said. “We work with organizations worldwide to do that long-term approach of increasing resiliency, decreasing vulnerability and then inoculating audiences to disinformation.”

 And an article written by Chuck Ross and published on March 25, 2020 highlights another aspect of the challenge – the use by Western media of Chinese “information” inputs.

The Daily Mail, the popular British tabloid widely read in the United States, has published dozens of articles in recent months about coronavirus that were based on stories originating from People’s Daily, the communist party’s official newspaper, and other Chinese propaganda mills.

A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found that the Daily Mail has published thousands of articles in recent years as part of a content-sharing agreement with People’s Daily.

Whether that agreement is explicitly in place now is unclear, but the tabloid has nonetheless cited Chinese government news outlets extensively in its coverage of coronavirus. The Daily Mail did not return multiple requests for comment

On Monday, the Daily Mail published a story with the headline: “Beijing’s leading doctor warns of a NEW coronavirus outbreak in China after the country reported its first case of someone ‘catching the illness from a person returning from abroad.’”

The story, which had a massive 1.1 million shares on social media, cited comments that Li Lanjuan, a top Chinese government doctor, gave to People’s Daily and China News, another government-controlled outlet. (RELATED: Media Rhetoric On ‘Wuhan Virus’ Echoes Chinese Propaganda)

“One of China’s top coronavirus experts has warned that the nation is facing a second outbreak due to the increasing number of infections detected among new arrivals from abroad,” reads the Daily Mail piece, written by Tracy You.

 In short the Coronavirus crisis is clearly not just about dealing with a virus; but an information war being conducted to try to position the 21st century authoritarian powers in a more favorable position after the crisis and to protect China’s position in the global economy.