Healthcare/Biosafety

Disinformation by Fake BBC, CNN, ABC about Harvard Professor Allegedly Arrested for Creating COVID-19

8 April, 2020

Russian and Georgian websites, as well as social networks reported on April 6-7 that Professor Charles Lieber from Harvard University had been arrested in the United States for allegedly creating the novel coronavirus. The articles with identical content noted that Charles Lieber was cooperating with Wuhan University of Technology, receiving an impressive annual salary and large grants from the Chinese government. The materials supposed that just Lieber could have supplied China with nanotechnology necessary for creating coronavirus. Headlines of some publications imperatively stated that Lieber was arrested on charges of creating coronavirus for China. 

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The news article headlined “Man Creating COVID-19 for China Arrested in the U.S” was published on the following Russian websites:   Комсомольской правда, bbcnewss.ru, ipne.ws, asia-times.org, press.cnnnews.ru, rua.gr, yandex.ru/news, barometr.info, qazweek.kz/ru, smi2.ru, evening-mail.ru, alternathistory.com, pikabu.ruamediainfo.ru, As for Georgian websites, the news was spread by  geoposts.ge, geonewest.ge, exclusivenews.ge, abcnews.com.ge, viki.ge. On April 7, intermedia.ge published an article headlined “Wuhan conspiracy and what is the link between coronavirus and espionage.” The article indirectly reiterates the message spread by other websites and tries to draw parallels between the American Professor’s arrest and the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan. 

It is worth noting that Russian (bbcnewss.ru, press.cnnnews.ru) and Georgian (abcnews.com.ge) cloned websites, which try to attract the audience using the names of well-known Western media outlets, were among the media outlets spreading the news. 

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Bbcnewss.ru, amediainfo.ru, geopost.ge and viki.ge have reported that Harvard Professor created for China a virus-like nanorobot, which can penetrate into human cells and weaken the immune system. The first two websites cited Harvard Magazine as the source of their information, while Georgian viki.ge and geoposts.ge referred to BBC-news by the end of the article. However, no specific web links were provided. The articles published by press.cnnnews.ru, asia-times.org, amediainfo.ru and intermedia.ge involve video remarks by Andrew Lelling of the U.S. Department of Justice from WCVB’s story. As for the article posted on intermedia.ge, its author refers to the article published on wbsm.com on March 18, 2020, which, in turn, tries to draw parallels between the American Professor’s cooperation with Wuhan University and the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan.

The spread reports represent disinformation and Charles Lieber’s arrest has nothing to do with the novel coronavirus

News about arrest of Professor Charles Lieber, chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at Harvard University, first emerged on January 28, 2020. Lieber was accused of lying to the U.S. Department of Defense about his connections with China. 

Lieber really worked at Wuhan University of Technology. He was carrying out research activities with the support of the Chinese government, receiving financial support instead. The U.S. government deemed the cooperation a security concern and arrested Lieber on charges of misleading officials. A number of U.S. media outlets reported about the fact, while Harvard University released an official statement. 

However, Charles Lieber’s arrest has nothing to do with the creation of coronavirus. The U.S. government accuses Lieber of lying about Chinese government ties rather than creation of coronavirus. The scientific research confirms that the novel coronavirus was not made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered, but it has originated through natural processes

Disinformation about Charles Lieber’s links to the coronavirus outbreak was spread by hidden and clickbait websites

Disinformation about Professor Lieber’s links to coronavirus was spread by clickbait and hidden websites. They deliberately used sensational headlines to spread the news about Lieber’s arrest. Russian sources cloned well-known Western brands, such as BBC and CNN, creating a perception that famous international media outlets were the sources of information. However, it should be noted that bbcnewss.ru and press.cnnnews.ru have nothing to do with BBC and CNN. 

Among Georgian websites, the disinformation was spread by abcnews.com.ge, which tries to imitate American ABC News. 

The cloned and other above mentioned websites are clickbait sites. Various ads are placed on such websites and their style, design and visual side indicate that the key goal behind misleading headlines is to gain economic benefits.

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Prepared by Medea Sulamanidze
Myth Detector Lab