A clear example unfolded in July, when Chinese state media outlets began relentlessly reporting on criticism written in a Facebook post by “Wilson Edwards”, a user claiming to be a Swiss scientist.
“Mr Edwards” argued that Washington was “so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it is reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings.”
But the Swiss embassy in China later said that there is no registry of a Swiss citizen with the name, and urged Chinese media to remove “false” news reports.
Experts believe “Wilson Edwards” likely does not exist, but is instead a fictitious propaganda profile. His Facebook page was launched on the day that he published the Covid-19 post. A new Twitter account under the name of “Wilson Edwards” also tweeted out the same message on that day.
The “Wilson Edwards” story appear to have first been reported through an obscure Fiji-based Chinese-English bilingual outlet, the Voice of South Pacific.
Though it is unclear whether Voice of South Pacific is backed by the Chinese state, its mobile app is developed by a wholly-owned subsidiary of state news agency China News Service, the first major Chinese state-owned outlet to report on Edwards’ claims.
The BBC found that even before Edwards’ Facebook post drew wide media attention, it had been shared by hundreds of Facebook accounts which claim to be based in Southeast Asia, for example, “Eastman Tyla” in Malaysia and “Tyree Schmidt” in Indonesia.
“Tyla” and “Schmidt” also circulated a long and identical list of pro-China news stories on their Facebook pages, praising Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.