China’s ‘fake news’ and the man who never was

Fictitious Swiss biologist creates an online storm and a state media frenzy

Behind the facade of a “fake news” fiasco is the man who never was.

Earlier this week, China’s state-run media was forced to delete references in numerous articles quoting a fictitious Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards.

He was quoted as saying that the United States was trying to politicize the World Health Organization’s investigation into the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan back in 2019.

The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen first surfaced in the Chinese city before spreading across the world, triggering a global crisis.

But now it appears that Edwards is a figment of online imagination.

“Looking for Wilson Edwards, alleged [Swiss] biologist, cited in [the] Press and social media in China over the last several days. If you exist, we would like to meet you!” the Swiss embassy in Beijing said after the story went viral.

The facts:

  • In an attached statement by the Swiss embassy, it said the Chinese media reports were false.
  • They appeared in the state-controlled Global Times, the People’s Daily, China Daily and CGTN in multiple languages.
  • The story was picked up from “Wilson Edwards’” Facebook page.
  • The account was created on the same day it published its only post on July 24, the Associated Press reported.
  • There was a profile photo of a library at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
  • The account now appears to have been deleted.
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What was said: “The WHO sources told me the US is so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it is reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings,” Edwards said on his mysterious social media post, citing unnamed World Health Organization sources and “fellow researchers.”

Fake news: “It is more likely that this is fake news, and we call on the Chinese Press and netizens to take down the posts,” the Swiss embassy said after staff had searched citizen records and academic publications for any mention of a biologist named Wilson Edwards.

Disappearing act: China’s state media has since erased “references” to Edwards, the Hong Kong Free Press revealed. “As of Wednesday, CGTN, People’s Daily, and China Daily all appeared to have removed references to Edwards and his statement from their articles, while the Global Times pulled an article by CGTN from its site altogether,” HKFP said.

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Delve deeper: The lack of transparency from China’s ruling Communist Party about the origins of the Covid-19 virus has seen relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorate. Tension has since increased after an inconclusive World Health Organization investigation in Wuhan earlier this year.

Big Picture: President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian regime has launched a state-sponsored network to push its alternative agenda and discredit China’s critics. More than “350 fake social media profiles” on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been used to spread disinformation by targeting individuals and western democracies. 

Altered state: “The aim of the network appears to delegitimize the West by amplifying pro-Chinese narratives,” Benjamin Strick, the author of a report released by the Centre for Information Resilience, said earlier this month.

China Factor comment: Under a veil of deception, mainstream and social media have distorted the Covid-19 narrative by pumping out “fake news.” Of course, this is what happens in China where journalism is actually discouraged and propaganda rules.