- Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey urged that the Chinese government should be banned from the platform.
- The two Republicans stressed that the Chinese government was using the social media platform to “disseminate propaganda” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- “While the coronavirus pandemic is afflicting families, governments, and markets around the world, the Chinese Communist Party is 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,” the GOP senators said.
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A pair of GOP lawmakers urged Twitter to ban scores of Chinese government accounts that attempt to “spread propaganda and whitewash” evidence suggesting China downplayed and covered-up early indications of the coronavirus’s impact.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey stressed that the Chinese government was using the platform to “disseminate propaganda” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Both pointed to the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) obfuscation over the origins of the coronavirus in recent weeks, when Chinese senior officials alleged without evidence that the US Army “brought” the virus to their country.
“We believe this behaviour more than warrants their removal from the platform,” the Sasse and Gallagher said in the letter. “Additionally, given the humanitarian importance of free and open access to the internet, we believe that access to social media platforms should be denied to government officials from countries that prohibit their own populations from accessing this very content.”
Similar to other authoritarian countries like Iran, Twitter is officially blocked in China. In 2019, Twitter removed nearly 4,800 accounts, over 1,600 of which sent out 2 million tweets that frequently shared news content “with an angle that benefited the diplomatic and geostrategic views of the Iranian state.”
Despite the official ban, state-influenced media organisations like Xinhua, as well as Chinese government officials, have accounts on the social media platform.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted on March 12. “Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation.”
The novel coronavirus is widely believed to have originated from wild animals, with early cases in December indicating it may have spread from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China.
“While the coronavirus pandemic is afflicting families, governments, and markets around the world, the Chinese Communist Party is 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,” the Republicans said.
The Republican letter comes days after a party colleague, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, was blocked on Twitter by Zhao. Neither Banks nor Zhao previously tweeted to each other; however, the Republican has been critical of the CCP for targeting “politicians that are generally critical of China,” the lawmaker previously said to Insider.
Some Republican lawmakers and personalities have also suggested that the Chinese government could have manufactured the disease. Republicans like longtime China-hawk Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas pointed to the proximity of the Wuhan wildlife markets to a Chinese “superlaboratory” and questioned whether the coronavirus may have been developed there.
Cotton has yet to provide evidence of the suggestion, but referenced the Chinese government’s indisputable sequence of suppressing information and downplaying the outbreak in its early stages, and alleged it was “lying about it from the very beginning.”
Chinese officials have been accused of lowering the number of positive cases and tamping down on reports since December, prior to when the virus’s spread was formally acknowledged by the government. The lack of transparency and action has been scrutinised in the US, where lawmakers claim that the information may have allowed the country to better prepare for the pandemic.
The hawkish sentiment towards the CCP comes as the White House is pushing talking points that accuse Beijing of a “cover-up,” according to a US State Department cable and two officials cited in a Daily Beast report.
“The [CCP] is waging a propaganda campaign to desperately try to shift responsibility for the global pandemic to the United States. This effort is futile,” the cable said, according to The Daily Beast. “Thanks to the … cover-up, Chinese and international experts missed a critical window to contain the outbreak within China and stop its global spread. Saving lives is more important than saving face.”