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  • COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter 14 September 2021

    14 September 2021

    COVID-19 Newsletter

    China and Russia embrace decentralised approach to spreading bioweapons narrative

    The COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter is prepared by the staff of the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech) at Oxford University. We summarise the latest independent research and high-quality news reporting on the production and consumption of computational propaganda and campaigns to manipulate public understanding of the health crisis. The newsletter is edited by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka. It is two-minute read.

    News Briefing

    China, Iran and Russia co-opted COVID-19 conspiracy theories and adopted digital influence operations to undermine the United States using the ‘bioweapons’ narrative. According to a report from the Atlantic Council the efforts to spread these narratives were “less centralized than they initially appeared” and were not directed by single actors that would control the narrative.

    A network of foreign-facing pro-Chinese government accounts has expanded its operations. According to a report by cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, the network uses controversial narratives to exploit divisions over COVID-19 and mobilise people to protest government health measures. Since 2019, the network has expanded to 30 social media platforms and now operates in English, Russian, German, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.

    Many COVID-19 dashboards that launched following the spread of the pandemic misled the public into “a false sense of transparency and surveillance in a time of intense crisis.” As researchers from Arizona State University point out, dashboard charts often obscure some of the biggest challenges of the pandemic, including higher death rates among minority/low-income communities.

    Academic Research

    A tiny portion of users account for up a half of activities and news shared in the COVID-19 global communication network. This is a conclusion of a study published in Social Science & Medicine that covered 200 million interactions on Twitter. The authors argue that 0.1% of influential users preside over huge hierarchies of communication networks. They also suggest that “the social articulation of its diffusion mechanisms” should become one of the priorities for policymakers dealing with public health and science communication online.

    Analytical thinking weakens belief in COVID-19 misinformation. According to a study published in Memory & Cognition, an individual’s propensity to engage in analytic (rather than intuitive) processes is linked to lower levels of sharing of COVID-19 misinformation.

    Reputation, expertise, and honesty in argumentation are the three most important criteria in assessing the credibility of users who share misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. A study by Reijo Savolainen published in Journal of Information Science also argues that objectivity of information and plausibility of arguments are factors that help Reddit users to judge the credibility of content of mis/disinformation about vaccination.

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