Part 2: Bots, the Chinese Propaganda Attack, and Conspiracy Theory
The CBC video begins with the claim that bots are highly prevalent and disseminate misinformation on Covid-19.
This is certainly true. The video's initial source for the CBC's claim is Kathleen Carley of the Carnegie Mellon Foundation, an organization which often does good work. Carley expresses surprise at the prevalence of automated and human/automated misinformation postings about Covid on social media.
The major role of money and marketing, both legal and criminal, aside from political targeting, is ignored in the CBC piece though it is massive gold mine for the booming bot industry. There is plenty of information to be easily found on that topic. Yet for those immersed in the new Cold War rhetoric, a misinforming bot is synonymous with nefarious foreign state political interference and very little honest effort is made to distinguish monetary or domestic political generated postings from foreign disseminated misinformation.
From EU justice chief Vera Jourova:
"We still see that the major platforms continue to monetise and incentivise disinformation and harmful content about the pandemic by hosting online ads," Jourova told Reuters in a phone interview, citing the example of one such ad misrepresenting migraines as the cause of the virus.
"This should be stopped. The financial disincentives from clickbait disinformation and profiteering scams also should be stopped," she said....
Covid as an attractant for scam marketing and other forms of fraud need not relate to the Covid-baited false message at all, except to serve as an attractant for marketing to an anxious populace. Though it can exist as part as a direct marketing schemes as well:
Avishay Zawaoznik, Security Research Manager at Imperva, describes the types of spam campaigns designed to spread fake news and the dangers they pose on our understanding of coronavirus
High levels of concern around the Coronavirus are currently being used to increase the online popularity of spam campaigns designed to spread fake news and drive unsuspecting users to dubious online drug stores.
Given the level of anxiety that currently exists globally around the spread of the potentially lethal Coronavirus, it’s perhaps unsurprising that opportunistic spammers are using the term in their campaigns. Indeed, the following two graphs show a very clear correlation between the term’s popularity on Google, and its appearance in bot traffic caught by Imperva over the same period....
The political content of misinformation spread by bots also certainly considerable, but how much of it is part of a Chinese or Russian foreign conspiracy as the CBC claims?
The Carley clip is used by the CBC to implicate China and Russia regimes, yet in a different mention of the same study:
The researchers said they found that among tweets about "reopening America," 66% came from accounts that were possibly humans using bot assistants to spread their tweets more widely, while 34% came from bots.
There are a few possible explanations for the surge in bot activity. People may have more time to set up elaborate bot networks during stay-at-home orders, and the availability of botnets for hire has exploded recently. Carley also said that the global nature of the pandemic meant that countries and interest groups were using it to advance political agendas.
However, the researchers did not determine the origins of the bot activity or narrow down whether it was coming from foreign nation-state actors or from within the US...."
Though evidence to "narrow down whether it was coming from foreign nation-state actors or from within the US" is lacking, Carley, without evidence, suggests a rather monolithic foreign conspiracy "machine" and "playbook" explanation for that data:
"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that".
One can be sure “a tremendous amount of resources” will indeed be marshalled for just that angle. Such politicized speculation guaranteed massive coverage repeated as fact in the by the Cold warriors of the major Western media. Other groups have, and will, continue the amplification of line of attack and add technical trappings to claim; this includes government officials, statements. “leaks” from security agencies and "scientific" propaganda syndicates such as Hamilton 2.0/Hamilton 6/Alliance for Securing Democracy. The latter organization being a source for CBC’s stories, and a security partner of the Canadian government. A different take on that outfit here:
April 9, 2020
US ‘Disinformation’ Claims Do Exactly What Enemies Are Accused of: Distract From Covid-19 Failures
Curiously, none of these articles presented proof of such nefarious online activity, instead relying chiefly on commentary and “unreleased reports” from US intelligence officials and neoconservative projects like the Alliance for Securing Democracy….
It’s common knowledge there was, and continues to be, considerable domestic strife, economic and political, over the bot-pushed demand to “reopen America” vs. safety fears of re-opening too early, much reported and often marked by protests. But in the New Cold or War the strife is regularly ascribed to being China or Russian instigated, including “sowing discord”, the lens by which the establishment filters much domestic discord. The reality may be much closer to home, and unless the Leadership Institute major funder, DeVos,is also getting payments from Putin, most of the protest inciting bot activity to reopen early suggests a “playbook” other than Carley’s:
Why the DeVos family's backing of the Michigan protests is no surprise
Another recent study on bot traffic (not reported by the CBC) does show something other than a foreign source for Covid political propaganda:
Misinformation about the origins of Covid-19 is far more likely to be spread by pro-Trump, QAnon or Republican bots on Twitter than any other source, according to a study commissioned by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.
In late March, when the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the US and across much of the rest of the world, two researchers at Queensland University of Technology, Timothy Graham and Axel Bruns, analysed 2.6m tweets related to coronavirus, and 25.5m retweets of those tweets, over the course of 10 days.
They filtered out legitimate accounts from those accounts most likely to be bots, which can be identified when they retweet identical coronavirus-related content within one second of each other.
The researchers identified 10 prominent bot-like networks that were attempting to push political agendas, separate from those bot networks pushing commercial sites by hitching on to trending topics like coronavirus.
The researchers found a coordinated effort to promote the conspiracy theory that Covid-19 was a bioweapon engineered by China....
and from the Austrailian Tech group’s site:
A new report by The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has identified coordinated networks of Pro-Trump and QAnon social media clusters at the centre of coordinated efforts to disseminate disinformation about COVID-19, particularly the conspiracy theory that China engineered the virus as a bioweapon.
The theory that COVID-19 was engineered by China has been embraced by the US President and elements of his administration.
The research, conducted by researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), shows that the spread of the theory on Twitter resembled a coordinated astroturfing campaign, with networks of accounts retweeting identical content repeatedly and within very short timeframes.
The vast majority of coordinated accounts spreading the bioweapon theory identify themselves as Pro-Trump, QAnon and/or Republican partisan.
Politically-focused coordinated retweeting of coronavirus topics almost exclusively promotes the interests of far-right wing parties and governments, including Turkey’s President Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s regime.
Only one out of thirty clusters of accounts coordinating on the bioweapon conspiracy theory was based on pro-Democrat and broadly left-wing accounts, while another promoted Baloch independence from Pakistan...
Like a virus
The coordinated spread of coronavirus disinformation Analysis of over 25.5million tweets over 10 days identifies 5,752 accounts that coordinated 6,559 times to spread mis-and disinformation regarding the coronavirus for either commercial or political purposes. Almost all politically motivated activity promoted right wing governments or parties. Coordinated spreading of the China bioweapon conspiracy theory is estimated to have made over 5million impressions on Twitter users, spread by mainly pro-Trump, partisan conservative and/or QAnon accounts….
The CBC’s example of the Chinese assault on truth and the innocent West is a flashed twitter remark from China's Foreign Affairs Minister Lijian Zhao:
When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!
That tweet made by Lijian is indeed without evidence and despite using the word “might” which could technically make it “speculation”, it can rightly be seen as propaganda to promote unsubstantiated accusations from a Chinese official.
Yet, there is no contextualizing of it from the CBC as a predictable, if feeble, push-back to the many more provocative statements from the US Government officials, President, the media and the massive US-based bot anti-Chinese campaign cited in the Australian study above.
I suspect (without proof, mind you) that without the relentless Covid related China-bashing on begun in January, I seriously doubt we would have any tit-for-tat Chinese push back from a Chinese government officials, or on Chinese social media where it remains a controversy.
The Weaponization of Language: “Propaganda” “Theory”, “Conspiracy” and “Conspiracy Theory”:
The CBC has at times referred to the “created in a lab” as “conspiracy theory” but
when political framing, it applies that vilification only to the designated enemies of US/Canada.
Covid “Conspiracy Theory” when applied to state actors is exclusively ascribed to state propaganda from Iran, China, Russia, etc. and is never associated with a US “government agenda”, or propaganda “Conspiracy Theory”. When western sources of Covid-19 conspiracy theory are referred at all, it is de-politicized as being unscientific failings, not propaganda.
For the CBC, the endlessly promoted from-a-Wuhan-lab conspiracy theory is never mentioned as part of “a campaign”, bot or otherwise, linked to a US government "propaganda machine" or “disinformation to further a national agenda” against China.
The term “Western propaganda” does not exist in the CBC’s News vocabulary the except to mock those who suggests it is ever in play.
Elsewhere, When discussing Trump saying that the virus “might” have been “intentionally” released from the Wuhan Lab, the CBC never adds the transformative adjective "conspiracy" to what it calls Trump's "theory"--Trump merely "suggests" and "speculates" (much like Lijian Zhao does cited above--but without the same CBC contempt and vilification) and, while mentioning scientific claims to the contrary, the CBC leaves it as a viable controversy, not a conspiracy theory:
Trump suggests China may have released COVID-19 from lab by 'mistake'
The Guardian, which is no slouch for the home team in the East-West propaganda game, reported on Pompeo’s May 3rd interview:
On Sunday, Pompeo said: “There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” later adding: “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
At one point, the secretary of state appeared confused over whether he was claiming the Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes the Covid-19 disease) was deliberately engineered or escaped as the result of a lab accident.
“Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” he said....
The CBC,reporting on the same interview with Canada’s foreign policy ally, is treated even more sympathetically as suggesting a faith in Pompeo’s impartial reporting of impartial US spy agencies. Instead of citing scientific counter-claims to the "manmade" virus, the story doubles-down and concludes with additional accusations from Ted Cruz.
China hid severity of the coronavirus to hoard supplies, U.S. intelligence documents allege
Pompeo says China responsible for the spread of disease and must be held accountable
To return to the initial claims of the CBC National News video, there is evidence that at least some of their allegations are true. There is indeed "state-funded media" that supplies "coronavirus misinformation" for "national agendas".| For proof, they only need look in the mirror.