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A Pentagon-funded think tank began tracking COVID-19 “misinformation” online prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and before COVID-19 information was available, reports show.
Graphika, which has received nearly $7 million in grants and contracts from the Department of Defense (DoD), specializes in monitoring social media for certain datasets — usually “misinformation” — and mapping its findings. It is staffed by former intelligence officials and calls itself “the cartographers of the Internet Age”.
According to a resurfaced report from Graphika in April 2020, the firm began collecting data on COVID-19 “misinformation” on social media in December, before the pandemic started.
“Data collection began on December 16 last year,” Graphika says in its report. Just four days earlier, a few patients in Wuhan, China had begun feeling an atypical pneumonia-like illness that did not respond to standard treatments. It was not until December 31st that the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted about the unknown disease, and only a month later that the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Graphika was monitoring hashtags such as “#covid19” back in mid-December before the term “COVID-19” had been coined. The WHO officially named the virus COVID-19 on February 11, 2020.
In its report, Graphika blames nearly all COVID-19 misinformation on “Right-wing groups” and praises Twitter for censoring “conspiratorial” and “misinformation” sites like Zero Hedge and Breitbart.
“[A] number of right-wing political communities from across the globe are involved in the conspiracy side of the coronavirus conversation,” says Graphika, adding that “[c]onservative groups have a larger total presence than liberal groups in the disinformation map”.
Graphika spends most of the report trying to detail how Right-leaning social media users propagated misinformation, such as comparing COVID-19 hysteria to “climate change alarmism”.
“These communities drew attention to their usual targets, for example by speculating that Greta Thunberg must be ‘delighted’ that people have been quarantined, thus lessening human impact on the environment.”
The document then spends several pages listing Right-wing sites from Italy and France which it claims used COVID-19 to post “racist” and “anti-immigrant” content. The report mentions no Left-wing or mainstream news sites as being sources of misinformation.
In fact, Graphika credits mainstream media for “debunking” conservative “conspiracy theories” surrounding Bill Gates and George Soros.
Closing out its report, Graphika rails against Right-leaning news sources — particularly The Epoch Times — for being critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its censorship of COVID-19 information.
“The objective of this content is likely to sow confusion, fear, and anger against the CCP by encouraging the viewpoint that China has been actively censoring the coronavirus narrative,” says Graphika, which then accuses former Trump Senior Advisor Steve Bannon and Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui of “stoking tensions between the US and China using sensationalist and often conspiratorial content.”
Mainstream media used Graphika’s report in April 2020 to intensify censorship against the Right, which was branded as America’s “misinformation” side.