Commentary: China faces huge challenges in tackling COVID-19 misinformation on social media

MADISON, Wisconsin: Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 have accompanied the pandemic from the start. 

Crucial to managing the pandemic is mitigating the results of misinformation, which the World Health Organization dubbed an “infodemic.”

Conspiracy theories and misinformation are world phenomena that have an effect on folks’s perceptions of different nations.

Yet little is known about which COVID-19 conspiracy theories are common on Chinese social media, how this differs from misinformation on US social media and what classes this holds for countering world misinformation.

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Popular conspiracies on Weibo concerning the origins of COVID-19 differ considerably from these in the US, with many claiming {that a} nationwide authorities intentionally constructed the coronavirus. 

Conspiracy posts and posts attributing duty to the US surged throughout Sino-US confrontations.

Surveys present that many Americans additionally consider COVID-19 conspiracy theories, nonetheless most of these conspiracy theories concerned personalities equivalent to Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci or unfounded different explanations for the sickness, equivalent to 5G, the brand new high-speed wi-fi community know-how.

Debunking posts will be more practical after they come from girls and influencers, who’re folks with giant followings on social media. 

Debunking posts are additionally more practical after they cite scientists because the supply. We consider these strategies might be efficient not solely in China however in different nations as properly.

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We collected and analysed COVID-19 posts from a pool of 250 million Weibo customers from Jan 1 to Apr 30, 2020. Although conspiracy theories associated to 5G, the bogus documentary “Plandemic” and Bill Gates have been prevalent in the US, these conspiracy narratives weren’t common on Weibo (4.95 per cent). 

Prevalent conspiracy theories on Weibo centred round whether or not COVID-19 was intentionally made as a bioweapon by the US, China, Japan or one other nation.

The quantity of conspiracy theories and debunking narratives surged throughout instances of Chinese-US battle from January to April 2020. 

Li Wenliang credit Weibo

Doctor Li Wenliang (Photo: Weibo)

These embrace when President Donald Trump first referred to the coronavirus because the “Chinese Virus” on Mar 16; throughout a number of diplomatic conflicts round Mar 25, on Apr 21 when Trump introduced a inexperienced card ban to stop folks from immigrating to the US; and when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced the 5G Clean Path on Apr 29, which required that wi-fi communications getting into and exiting US diplomatic amenities bypass the tools of “untrustworthy” communications corporations like China’s Huawei.

During these Chinese-US confrontations, we additionally noticed a surge in posts that centered on blaming the US as the unique supply of COVID-19.

The pandemic has exacerbated a world pattern towards nationalism. These two forces have given rise to vaccine nationalism, which might threaten the plan for world entry to COVID-19 vaccines.

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Meanwhile, about 78 per cent of Americans faulted China for its dealing with of the COVID-19 outbreak, in accordance with a Pew Research Center survey.

COVID-19 is an instance of how science will be distorted to divide folks inside a rustic and throughout nations. 

To perceive tips on how to successfully talk concerning the pandemic, it’s necessary to consider the political contexts in which science and well being communication happen.


Fighting conspiracy theories is a tough battle. 

Scholars of communication and psychology level out the psychological mechanisms that trigger folks to reject factual information if it challenges their worldview or sense of themselves.

My colleagues and I supply three methods for countering misinformation that may overcome these political and psychological hurdles.

First, create a constructive media setting to inoculate the general public.

A picture released by the Central Hospital of Wuhan shows medical staff attending to patient at the

An image launched by the Central Hospital of Wuhan reveals medical employees attending to affected person on the The Central Hospital Of Wuhan Via Weibo in Wuhan, China on an unknown date. THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO/Handout through REUTERS

We recommend that political events and media ought to keep away from utilizing nationalistic and politically motivated narratives when speaking concerning the pandemic. They ought to produce extra messages that advocate for widespread pursuits and values for preventing the pandemic and the infodemic.

We additionally suggest that public companies, students and social media corporations conduct extra experiments to discover efficient misinformation inoculation methods that may assist the general public recognise and reject politically pushed conspiracy theories. 

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To assist the general public grow to be extra refined in processing messages, researchers and communicators might give the general public a small dose of conspiracy narratives and explicitly warn concerning the political motives behind these conspiracy theories.

Second, enhance public consciousness via deliberation.

We suggest {that a} long-term answer to combat misinformation is to develop alternatives for conversations between folks of various political orientations in order to have constructive dialogues that develop mutual understanding and to type considerate opinions. 

People with deeply divided views can have constructive conversations with one another. Vulnerable populations will be empowered to have considerate engagement with one another.

Third, select efficient message senders and sources to appropriate misinformation.

We recommend that social media corporations and public companies think about actively looking for assist from credible influencers, and ladies who don’t have giant followings, to disseminate debunking information. Information on social media competes for public consideration. 

Our analysis discovered that posts that got here from influencers, in addition to girls with out huge numbers of followers, and that cited scientists or different students, acquired extra likes, feedback, retweets and hashtags.

The proper messenger and the suitable information supply are important for rising public engagement and understanding of science.

Listen to infectious illness professors break down the newest COVID-19 restrictions and the way they could be carried out throughout Chinese New Year on CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast:


Kaiping Chen is Assistant Professor of Science Communication on the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.

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