The Virus Of Disinformation: Echoes of Past Bioweapons Accusations in Today's Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories

By Sarah Jacobs Gamberini and Amanda Moodie War on the Rocks


Researching dangerous viruses in the laboratory.
Researching dangerous viruses in the laboratory.
Researching dangerous viruses in the laboratory.
Laboratory Research
Researching dangerous viruses in the laboratory.
Photo By: Luchschen
VIRIN: 180426-D-BD104-0021

Despite its moniker, the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic almost certainly did not originate in Spain. The belligerents of World War I suppressed reporting on the outbreak in order to avoid harming morale, while Spain, as a neutral country, had a media free to report openly on the extent of the disease. Since most media coverage of the outbreak came from Spain, so too did its origin story. The 1918 outbreak — frequently compared to the current COVID-19 pandemic in terms of public fear and response — could have begun in China, or the United States, or northern France. But the lasting debates around its point of origin — and, by extension, the attribution of responsibility for its spread — are familiar to those of us living through the novel coronavirus outbreak.

More than a century later, several countries are employing disinformation and messaging campaigns around COVID-19 in a branding effort to ensure they are not blamed for the pandemic in the history books. As the number of COVID-19 cases in China has reportedly declined, Chinese state-run media and diplomats, including a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have waged a disinformation campaign against the United States in an attempt to distract from Beijing’s mismanagement of the crisis. This includes a baseless claim that American military members brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan this past fall during the Military World Games.

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