Russia-linked media has launched a major disinformation campaign to create "panic and fear" in the West about the coronavirus outbreak.
That's according to the European Union's External Action Service (EEAS), which says in its leaked internal report that since 22nd January, it has recorded roughly 80 cases, in which Russian media outlets were found spreading disinformation about the Covid-19 outbreak.
The purpose of this disinformation campaign, according to the nine-page report, is to generate panic among the public, sow distrust, and to intensify the impact of the outbreak in Europe. The campaign is "in line with the Kremlin's broader strategy of attempting to subvert European societies", the report noted, according to Reuters.
The EU document discusses Russian efforts to amplify recent accusations that coronavirus was a biological weapon developed by the US.
Most scientists, however, believe the disease likely originated in China, probably in one of the country's notorious 'wet markets' where live animals are traded, and was then transmitted to humans.
The EU report also cites example of a fake claim that an American soldier deployed in Lithuania was infected with coronavirus.
Another conspiracy theory implied that "England" and some unnamed foreign organisations were looking to control Chinese internal affairs.
Rather than creating disinformation, Russian sources, in most cases, were seen amplifying theories that had been created in other countries, such as China, the US or Iran, according to the researchers at Cardiff University's Centre for Crime and Security Research, who carried out the work with the EU commission.
"This tactic allows them to avoid the accusation of creating disinformation themselves, claiming instead that they are merely reporting what others are saying," the report stated.
According to Reuters, the EEAS has also contacted Slovakia over the spread of one specific fake news, which claimed that Solvakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini was infected with coronavirus and said that he might have passed on the infection to other people during a summit.
"Whoever is spreading the disinformation is essentially playing with people's lives," said Peter Stano, the European commission's chief spokesperson on foreign and security policy.
"Every responsible social media or media user should be aware of this: that there is a lot of misinformation circulating around … Double check, triple check, go to a media you really trust and look at the sources."
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