A network of hundreds of Twitter accounts have embarked on a disinformation campaign blaming a shipment of Maine lobsters for the original outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, NBC News reported Thursday.
Marcel Schliebs, a disinformation researcher at the University of Oxford, first uncovered the network of more than 550 pro-China accounts in September after Zha Liyou, the Chinese consul general in Kolkata, India, tweeted the baseless claim. Schliebs then shared his research with NBC News and revealed the accounts had tweeted virtually identical version of the same message in a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, French, Polish, Korean and Latin.
The tweets from Zha and the network of accounts blamed the spread of COVID in Wuhan on a 2019 shipment of lobsters that were ultimately sold at a seafood market in the city. Schliebs told NBC that most of the accounts had few followers, but some appeared to be stolen from real people. (RELATED: House Republicans: ‘Significant Circumstantial Evidence’ COVID-19 Originated From Wuhan Lab Leak)
The theory comes months more than a year after Chinese propagandists attempted to blame the Wuhan outbreak on the U.S. military.
“This is the third or fourth major different redirection Chinese officials have gone in to try and somehow pin the COVID outbreak on the U.S.,” Bret Schafer, the head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy told NBC. “It looks crude and not sophisticated when you look at individual accounts. But these kinds of networks are designed to try and get topics to trend on social media.”
“Whether or not anyone is buying into lobster or Fort Detrick being the source of COVID, it’s at least having the effect of muddying the truth and confusing people,” he added.
China has aggressively pushed back on attempts to thoroughly investigate the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan. Experts have criticized the World Health Organization’s (WHO) January 2021 fact finding trip into Wuhan as insufficient, given that those on the trip weren’t allowed to do any of their own research, instead relying on data provided by Chinese scientists. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Biden Admin Hits China For Blocking Another WHO COVID-19 Origins Investigation)