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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Misinformation about the coronavirus is testing governments, tech platforms and health officials — as well as a nervous public — in both the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: The new cycle of misinformation around the deadly disease is testing Big Tech platforms' ability to police rule-breaking content and China's ability to control domestic criticism.

Tech platforms — including Facebook, Twitter and Google — are scrambling to stop the spread of misinformation about the virus, much of which violates their own content rules.

  • Buzzfeed News has documented several examples of misinformation about the virus, including fabricated government warnings and false information about the number of people affected in U.S. cities.
  • Some of it's coming from private Facebook groups that popped up after the virus began spreading, The Washington Post reports.

The Chinese government is facing similar challenges — a change from past outbreaks.

  • Some of the fastest-spreading misinformation about the crisis involves unfounded rumors that the Chinese government started the virus, according to an analysis provided to Axios from social media intelligence company Storyful.
  • According to Storyful's Catherine Sanz, dozens of posts across Weibo, the Chinese messaging app, are making claims that the virus was engineered by either the Chinese or the U.S. governments, a narrative that exploits the already strained relationship between the two counties.
  • According to the data, nearly 13,000 posts across Twitter, public Facebook pages, and Reddit between January 24 and January 27 have propagated conspiracy theories about the virus, including that it may be a bioweapon or a depopulation method.

Yes, but: The Chinese government is spreading some misinformation of its own in response.

  • Storyful found that Chinese state media has tweeted photos purporting to show a new hospital, but which were actually stock images from a company that sells modular containers.

The big picture: Health care has long been a target of misinformation, because it plays into existing fears. This is especially true for disease outbreaks, which can spread faster than the news cycle is equipped to handle.

  • Axios wrote last year that Russian efforts to sow discord ahead of the 2020 elections appeared to be focused on spreading inaccurate information about vaccines and 5G wireless technology.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations wrote last year that online disinformation about the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola virus outbreak in 2018 and 2019 made the crisis worse, because it undermined confidence in the underlying science being used to stop the spread of the disease.

Go deeper: 2020 misinformation campaigns take aim at the latest spook issues

Go deeper

7 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.