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China’s role in the COVID-19 infodemic

36 minutes

As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, the World Health Organization says we’re now in an infodemic alongside it. We’ve seen this play out as misinformation and conspiracy theories move from digital to mainstream media and cast a shadow of doubt about information coming from the government and public health experts.

Our guests this week have been tracking China’s role in this infodemic and argue that Beijing is taking a few pages out of Russia’s playbook for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and its broader efforts to undermine democracy around the world. Jessica Brandt and Bret Schafer are part of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks online information manipulation through its Hamilton 2.0 dashboard.

Early on in the pandemic, they saw an uptick in tweets from Chinese diplomats and embassies that were amplifying conspiracy theories about the virus’s origin and casting doubt on information from the World Health Organization and other official sources. The goal is not necessarily to have people believe these claims, but to stir up enough doubt to discredit democratic norms and institutions.

If you enjoy this episode, we recommend checking out the Out of Order podcast, produced by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and part of The Democracy Group podcast network.

Finally, it’s time for the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag episode! In a few weeks, we will record an episode answering your questions before we take a summer break. Send us your question about democracy and we’ll answer it on the show, plus you’ll have the chance to win a Democracy Works mug.

Additional Information

Jessica and Bret’s article on China’s COVID-19 disinformation efforts

Hamilton 2.0

Out of Order podcast

The Democracy Group podcast network

Listener mailbag question submission

Related Episodes

Protecting democracy from foreign interference

How conspiracies are damaging democracy

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 28, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

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