National public opinion immune to overseas rumors: experts

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/19 0:53:40

People send flowers and notes to the Central Hospital of Wuhan on Saturday to commemorate doctor Li Wenliang, who died of novel coronavirus pneumonia on February 7. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Baseless claims deliberately designed to tarnish China's efforts in fighting against COVID-19 that have emerged occasionally on Chinese internet have been found mostly to be originated from overseas, and Chinese observers noted on Tuesday that such rumors won't impact the mainstream opinion in China, as the public have grown familiar with such old tricks.

But Chinese authorities should also treat the issue seriously, and they need to be more proactive and transparent in dealing with public relations incidents. Transparency from the authorities can win understanding from foreigners whose opinions are neutral toward China, but not from those who are ideologically hostile. 

According to Beijing Daily's public WeChat account "Capitalnews" on Monday, rumors that Huang Yanling, a research fellow from the Wuhan Institute of Virology "was the first person to contract COVID-19" were created by a social media account with an overseas location in recent login history.

This is not the first time that overseas sources, politicians and media have created such rumors. US Republican Senator Tom Cotton claimed that the COVID-19 is linked to Chinese biological weapons research.

"Those overseas anti-China propaganda institutions, politicians and even certain mainstream Western media won't change anytime sooner, as they treat China as their sworn enemy, so they will continue spreading rumors against China," Shen Yi, head of Fudan University's Cyberspace Governance Research Institute told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Shen said "they care little about the virus and how such rumors may interrupt Chinese society and harm Chinese people, as they only want to cause trouble and expect more bad news from China."

Different types of rumors emerge now and then especially when China is making efforts to fight the virus and minimize its impact on the rest of the world. 

A typical rumor claimed that China has banned a World Health Organization delegation from entering Hubei and that (China) is covering the facts of the epidemic situation. 

But fortunately these rumors are not widespread and won't make any major impact on China but will only cause annoyance among the public. With information from mainstream media with credible sources and the timely response from the authorities, these rumors will be debunked quickly, said a cyber-security expert in Beijing who asked not be named.

"In fact, most rumormongers we know of are located overseas, so it's not realistic for the police and other domestic law-enforcement agencies to identify and arrest every single one of them. Many are located in the island of Taiwan and the US," he told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

They are rather professional because they not only create rumors but also try to dominate the narrative to hype up anti-government sentiment when sensitive issues happen, he said, noting the best way to address the issue is for authorities and Chinese mainstream media to act more proactively and transparently to clear up doubt and leave no room for rumors to spread.

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