TheHill reports two Republican lawmakers on Friday called on Twitter to ban the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from its platform following a surge in Chinese misinformation around the coronavirus.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey strongly urging him to remove the CCP from the platform, and to block access to Twitter for any other foreign officials that ban the use of Twitter in their countries.
“While the coronavirus pandemic is afflicting families, governments, and markets around the world, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a massive propaganda campaign to rewrite the history of COVID-19 and whitewash the Party’s lies to the Chinese people and the world,” Gallagher and Sasse wrote.
Twitter is blocked in China, Iran, and North Korea, but according to the lawmakers the CCP spreads misinformation on the platform outside of China, an issue Gallagher and Sasse heavily criticized.
“By banning Twitter in China, the Chinese Communist Party is keeping its citizens in the dark,” they wrote. “By putting propaganda on Twitter, the Chinese Communist Party is lying to the rest of the world.”
The lawmakers asked that Dorsey respond to several questions around how Twitter decides which officials are allowed to access the platform, how Twitter views tweets from the CCP and how Twitter rationalizes allowing the CCP to tweet out misinformation.
“It is clear that Chinese Communist Party officials are using Twitter to disseminate propaganda in the midst of a dangerous global crisis,” Gallagher and Sasse wrote. “Even worse, this propaganda obscures and confuses users over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially undermines efforts to contain and control the outbreak. We believe this behavior more than warrants their removal from the platform.”
Per Newsweek, the first confirmed case of someone suffering from COVID-19 in China can be traced back as far as November 17 last year, according to local reports.
The South China Morning Post reported it had seen government data showing that a 55-year-old from Hubei may have had the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus on November 17, but did not make the data public.
The newspaper also said that it was possible there were cases reported before the November date set out in the government data, adding that Chinese officials had identified 266 cases of COVID-19 last year.
Meanwhile, at least one Chinese official has been trying to point fingers at the United States.
NBC reports Chinese officials have sidestepped questions about whether Beijing blames Washington for the coronavirus outbreak after a foreign ministry spokesman suggested it could have been planted by the U.S. Army.
“When did patient zero begin in U.S.? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Zhao Lijian tweeted in both Chinese and English on Thursday. “Be transparent! Make public your data! U.S. owe us an explanation!”
His post was accompanied by a video of Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that some Americans who had seemingly died from influenza later tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Zhao, who was based at the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan before moving to the foreign ministry in February, is a prolific social media user; a hashtag referring to his posts was trending on the Chinese social media platform Weibo on Friday with more than 89,000 mentions. He is known for being outspoken and for his sometimes outrageous comments.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. 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! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020