False Rumors Of A Coup In China Go Viral On Social Media Platforms This Weekend

Since late Friday rumors of a possible coup attempt in China stormed social media platforms across the world. Within 24 hours the rumors had become so prevalent that #ChinaCoup and related hashtags were trending on Twitter and news of the alleged coup went viral. The first reports spoke of long columns of People’s Liberation Army vehicles seen on the highways in and around Beijing. These were followed up by posts indicating airspace in and around Beijing and other areas of China had been shut down and all train and bus travel was cancelled. On Saturday, the real meat and potatoes of the coup rumors broke out stating ‘reliable sources’ had confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping was under house arrest and the military had taken over control of the city.

Naturally, credible news sources reported nothing of a coup or the arrest of Jinping. Mainly because there was no coup attempt and Jinping was not under house arrest. Social media took the unconfirmed news and ran with it, as social media has a tendency of doing. The topic grew in popularity throughout Saturday and only started to diminish once it became clear through credible sources that nothing of concern was going on in Beijing or elsewhere in China.

As for what started the rumors, this remains unknown for now. Events last week inside of China could’ve inspired the rather creative coup news. While Jinping was at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan, two former ministers were sentenced to death and four other former officials were sentenced to life in prison as part of Jinping’s heavy-handed crackdown on corruption in Chinese politics. This was followed by Jinping departing from public view upon his return from the SCO meeting.

The China coup rumors highlight an ever-present danger of social media. It does not take very much for erroneous news to trend and appear legitimate. In these times of uncertainty, widespread fake news and rumors on social media could result in violence, damage, and loss of life in the real world. Or worse. Unfortunately, social media is also quite vulnerable to being weaponized by a nation-state for its own needs and interests. As we move deeper into the 2020s, the probability of this happening at some point in the near future is increasing.

Pandemic Politics: 12 March, 2020 Update

454353

Good afternoon, everyone. This is just a brief summary update of some of the day’s coronavirus related events around the world. In some nation-states the situation seems to be improving, albeit gradually. In others the opposite is true. Here in the US, there’s a growing level of concern among most citizens. Some state governors are responding well, while a handful aren’t. The governor of New York, for example, appears determined to transform the coronavirus outbreak into a political weapon of sorts. Oh well. It’s an election year, so I suppose that should not come as a surprise. 😊

 

World Markets

Most of the world’s stock markets are diving into bear market territory right now with the notable exception of China’s Shanghai Index. The growing global panic over the coronavirus is causing significant volatility in the markets and it does not appear that will change anytime soon. As of right now the Dow is approaching a 2,000 point loss, though there are still a few hours left in the trading day. President Trump’s speech last night has not soothed market jitters and the growing number of cases in Europe and the US is adding to a growing panic.

 

Germany

Angela Merkel’s dire prediction yesterday that coronavirus could infect 60-70% of the German population came as the number of cases in the Federal Republic rose considerably. As of yesterday Germany had nearly 1,300 cases and 3 deaths.

 

US Travel Restrictions

Last night President Trump announced a 30 day ban on travel between the US and Europe. The ban will take effect at midnight Friday and will affect only nations that are members of the Shengen border-free travel area. The decision has been met with anger, and confusion on the continent with many EU officials, and member-nation leaders complaining that the US did not consult with the European Union before making a decision. Many in Europe are questioning the value of European travel restrictions, pointing to the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis, not simply a European or American matter. This argument sidesteps the fact that the United States, like every other nation on the planet, reserves the right to deal with its borders in any manner it deems necessary to protect its citizens.

 

Italy

The death toll in Italy has surpassed 1,000. Italy has been the hardest hit European country and the government has responded by initiating what essentially a national lockdown. On Wednesday night all non-essential services and stores were ordered closed including commercial and retail activities. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also announced that public services will remain unaffected, and industrial production is allowed to continue as long as companies take strict measures to protect their employees and prevent a spread of the contagion.