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EU says China, Russia spreading COVID-19 'disinformation'

June 10, 2020

In an unusually blunt statement, the EU said China and Russia were engaged in "targeted" campaigns to spread health hoaxes and false information about the coronavirus. Brussels urged social media giants to take action. 

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Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/A. Alfiky,

The European Union accused Beijing and Moscow of waging targeted coronavirus disinformation campaigns in a new strategy paper published on Wednesday.

"Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood, and globally," the European Commission said in a statement.

In the paper, EU experts said they've logged a "massive wave" of health care hoaxes, false claims, online scams, hate speech and COVID-19 coronavirus conspiracy theories circulating on social media platforms — as well as attempts by foreign actors to insert themselves in domestic EU issues.

"Such coordination [by third country actors] reveals an intention to use false or misleading information to cause harm," the policy paper read.

Read more: EU-China summit: What really happened?

More transparency from social media companies

The Commission called on social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google to do more to counter disinformation on their platforms and to remove misleading and dangerous content.

They also called on the companies to be more transparent and compile monthly reports with detailed information on steps taken to limit coronavirus disinformation.

"The pandemic showed that disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens," said Commission Vice President Vera Jourova.

Read more: Latest conspiracy theories repeat old stories

Tensions with China

Although the statement levied a rare, blunt accusation against Beijing, the EU's chief diplomat sought to soften the blow of the policy paper.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that he assured China's foreign minister that the bloc "is not going to embark on any kind of Cold War with China." 

The paper is likely to raise tensions between Brussels and Beijing ahead of a video summit later this month between Chinese leaders and European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

rs/msh (dpa, AFP)

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