Twitter fact-checks China official after Post presses on Trump double standard


Confronted with an apparent double standard in its lack of fact-check warnings on tweets by a Chinese government spokesman versus the hardline it took with President Trump this week, Twitter on Wednesday added notations to the postings, which falsely accused the US government of causing the coronavirus pandemic.

The social media company’s decision follows its flagging of a pair of tweets from Trump that said mail-in ballots are vulnerable to fraud. That decision outraged Trump and called into question the political bias of the man in charge of fact checking for the social media giant.

But when The Post asked Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley whether the company would similarly annotate Zhao Lijian’s dubious March tweets, she said they would not add fact-check warnings “at this time.”

Pressed further for a rationale, Kelley later said the company had changed its mind and “after further review, we’ve added labels to these two tweets.”

In a statement to The Post, Twitter said: “The tweets in question contain potentially misleading and harmful content about COVID-19 and have been labeled to provide additional context to the public. This enforcement decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month.”

In one tweet, Zhao linked to an article and wrote: “This article is very much important to each and every one of us. Please read and retweet it. COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US.”

In the other, Zhao wrote: “CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

Both tweets now have a warning directing readers to click through to “Get the facts about COVID-19.”

The landing page directs users to information on the virus origins, including an assessment it emerged in animals, not a lab. The outbreak began late last year in Wuhan and has killed 100,000 Americans and left nearly one-quarter of US workers jobless.

Zhao is known for bombastic statements. Trump said he began calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” earlier this year in part to counter Zhao’s misinformation program.

Twitter is blocked inside China, but many Chinese users circumvent the ban.

The action against Zhao may not be enough to ease Trump’s fury after his tweets were flagged. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Wednesday evening on Air Force One that Trump would be signing an executive order soon “pertaining to social media.”

The flagging of Trump’s tweets outraged Republicans, who blasted as biased the Twitter official in charge of fact-checking, Yoel Roth.

Roth previously referred to Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Twitter as “a personality-free bag of farts” and compared Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.