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Twitter Dings Trump’s Tweets But Refuses To Fact Check Chinese Officials’ Virus Misinformation

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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  • Twitter fact-checked President Donald Trump Tuesday for suggesting California’s mail-in ballots are fraudulent, yet the company has declined to make the same move against a Chinese spokesman who suggested the U.S. brought the coronavirus into China. 
  • The company applied the fact check on Trump’s tweet only after media pundits lobbied Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to ban the president for supposedly using the platform to distribute misinformation. 
  • Twitter told the Daily Caller News Foundation in March that Chinese politician Lijian Zhao’s tweet floating the conspiracy theory does not violate the company’s rules. The company updated its policies on May 11, effectively making world leaders’ tweets subject to misinformation labels. 

Twitter has declined to take action against Chinese officials who spread coronavirus misinformation even after the company fact-checked President Donald Trump for suggesting California’s mail-in ballots are fraudulent.

A tweet from Chinese politician Lijian Zhao in March suggesting that the U.S. inserted coronavirus into China has not been removed or fact-checked. Twitter has previously said that Zhao’s tweets do not violate the company’s rules, but Twitter updated its policies on May 11, effectively making tweets from world leaders subject to misinformation labels.

Twitter did not immediately responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on Zhao’s tweet following the fact check on Trump.

The company’s fact check on Trump’s tweet Tuesday came amid criticism that Twitter has not doing enough to push back against what many critics believe to be the president’s misinformation.

Twitter’s fact check states: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to articles refuting Trump’s claim that California’s move to offer mail-in ballots will lead to widespread voter fraud.

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 26, 2019. (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 26, 2019. (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump’s tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots,” a Twitter spokeswoman told the Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday. “This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month,” she added before citing a May 11 Twitter blog post announcing the new labeling system.

The spokeswoman reiterated the company’s existing rules but did not provide a reason for speaking anonymously. (RELATED: Twitter Won’t Remove Chinese Official’s Tweet Suggesting US Army Introduced Virus Into Wuhan)

Twitter announced in a May 11 blog post that moderators will filter such information through three categories: misleading information, disputed claims and unverified claims. Misleading information will carry a label or outright removal, depending on the severity, while unverified claims will not have any action taken against them. Disputed claims will contain a label or a warning.

The label system “will also apply to Tweets sent before today,” the blog post said.

“Moving forward, we may use these labels and warning messages to provide additional explanations or clarifications in situations where the risks of harm associated with a Tweet are less severe but where people may still be confused or misled by the content,” Twitter noted in the post. Twitter used the policy change to just the Trump fact check, a first for any big tech company.

Zhao’s tweet remains without a similar designation. (RELATED: Twitter Won’t Remove Chinese Official’s Tweet Suggesting US Army Introduced Virus Into Wuhan)

FILE PHOTO: Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter and founder and CEO of Square, speaks at the Consensus 2018 blockchain technology conference in New York City, New York, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Zhao, the spokesman and deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, tweeted in early March that, “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” He also falsely suggested in the tweet that Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield was “arrested.”

Zhao was one of the first Chinese officials on Twitter to push a theory suggesting coronavirus originated at the U.S. Army, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The theory accelerated after other Chinese embassy accounts in France and Jordan retweeted Zhao’s post, the data show. He’s not the only Chinese official not to receive a factcheck or label of any kind.

“Mr. President is right. Some people do need to be injected with, or at least gargle with it. That way they won’t spread the virus, lies and hatred when talking,” Hu Zhaoming, a spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party, wrote on Twitter in April. He was referring to reports of Trump wondering if an “injection” of “disinfectant” could help with people with the virus.

China has posted 90,000 tweets mentioning the pandemic since the beginning of April from 200 diplomatic and state-run media accounts, data from the dashboard shows. Schafer’s analysis also shows that Twitter content from Chinese accounts doubled since Januar

The White House has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the fact check.

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