Does Not Violate Twitter Rules
Twitter won’t ban Chinese Communist Party officials and diplomats spreading falsehoods about the origins of the novel coronavirus.
Beijing has engaged in a war of words with the United States, claiming the COVID-19 outbreak, which is widely believed to have originated in China, instead started with the U.S. military.
As Chinese officials took their allegations to Twitter, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last week, calling for the suspension of accounts “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.”
A company representative declined to provide the Washington Examiner an on-the-record explanation for Twitter’s inaction but pointed to a 2019 blog post outlining the rules about world leaders using the social media site.
“Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” the Twitter post states.
The Twitter guidelines further note that “when it comes to the actions of world leaders on Twitter, we recognize that this is largely new ground and unprecedented” and said, “We understand the desire for our decisions to be ‘yes/no’ binaries, but it’s not that simple.”
Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian tweeted last week that “more evidence suggests that the virus was not originated at the seafood market in Wuhan at all.” He was quote-tweeting a missive from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who shared an article blaming the coronavirus on a U.S. military lab. “Please read and retweet it. COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the U.S.,” he said.
Zhao said in another tweet that the “CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in U.S.? 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! U.S. owe us an explanation!”
There are limits to what world leaders can tweet.
Twitter’s 2019 blog post said that they “are not above our policies entirely” and that the promotion of terrorism, direct threats of violence against an individual, posting private information, sharing intimate photos, sexual exploitation, and encouraging self-harm could all get a world leader banned.
The guidelines state that “in other cases involving a world leader, we will err on the side of leaving the content up if there is a clear public interest in doing so.”
There is well-documented evidence that China tried to cover up the existence and spread of the coronavirus, silenced doctors and whistleblowers, misled the World Health Organization, and attempted to keep independent health experts from investigating in Wuhan.
WHO concluded the COVID-19 virus first appeared in the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China. WHO’s investigative report in February concluded that “early cases identified in Wuhan are believed to have acquired infection from a zoonotic source … in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market.”
Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai, who previously said it was “crazy” to believe that the coronavirus was a U.S. bioweapon, stood by that assessment in an interview with Axios on HBO this weekend.
“I’m here representing my head of the state and my government. Not any particular individual,” he said, adding, “I don’t have the responsibility to explain everybody’s views to you.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted last week that the coronavirus didn’t originate in China and implied the outbreak began in the U.S. In recent days, state-run Xinhua News Agency, as well as the Chinese Embassy to France’s official account, referred to COVID-19 pandemic as the “Trumpandemic.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insisted on calling the illness the “Wuhan coronavirus,” and Trump has repeatedly said “Chinese virus” on Twitter and in White House press briefings. Critics argue the terminology is racist and xenophobic, though dozens of media outlets and news shows repeatedly referred to the COVID-19 virus as some variant of the “Chinese coronavirus” or “Wuhan coronavirus” for weeks.
Twitter is officially blocked in China, despite its leaders using it prolifically. And last year, Twitter shut down 200,000 bot accounts that it believed were part of a Chinese-coordinated disinformation operation against the Hong Kong protests.