The European Union has been hit with waves of online disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, including campaigns from China and Russia, commissioners said Wednesday. Image from EU Commission promotional video
June 10 (UPI) -- Waves of disinformation campaigns about the coronavirus have been unleashed on the European Union, and some of the false messages are coming from China and Russia, officials from the European Commission said Wednesday.
"Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill. We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices," said Josep Borrell, EU high representative and vice president in a statement.
The commission called the volume of misinformation messages "unprecedented," and a "massive wave."
Foreign actors, including the Kremlin and China are seeking to "undermine democratic debate with ... influence operations and disinformation campaigns around Covid-19 in the EU," the commission said.
Misleading healthcare information, dangerous false claims and conspiracy theories are taking over the online space and need to be countered by factual campaigns, Věra Jourová, vice president for values and transparency, said in a press briefing.
"What scares me is we believe in those lies so easily," Jourová said.
Claims that drinking bleach or pure alcohol can cure coronavirus have led to a spike in the number of incidents reported to Belgium's Poison Control Center, the commission said. Other claims that 5G installations would be spreading the virus have led to vandalism of telecom masts.
Conspiracy theories that the virus was developed in Chinese weapons labs or is 'an infection caused by the world's elites for reducing population growth' are also rebutted on a dedicated coronavirus disinformation website.
She praised online companies that are cooperating with the EU's 2018 Code of Practice, which was signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla.
Twitter has challenged more than 3.4 million suspicious accounts targeting coronavirus discussions, and Facebook and Instagram have directed more than 2 billion online users to official information resources from health officials, the commission reported.
YouTube has reviewed more than 100,000 videos related to dangerous of misleading information and removed more than 15,000, the commission said. Platforms also have removed misleading information about "overpriced, ineffective or potentially dangerous products."
The commission said it will continue to work with online platforms to preserve the right of free speech, while also pushing forward the correct facts about coronavirus, Jourová, said.