#Biolabs #Ukraine: A Social Media Analysis
On March 10, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese diplomats and PRC state media organizations repeated the Kremlin’s false claim that the Pentagon was financing biological and chemical weapons labs in Ukraine at news conferences in Beijing. Washington further claimed that Chinese actors were spreading this disinformation in articles and on official social media accounts. To test Washington’s accusation that Chinese officials were spreading Russian disinformation, TCM’s in-house subject matter expert ran data analysis using Node XL and determined that as of March 21, posts with hashtags #biolabs and #Ukraine which had the highest visibility and interest on the platform originated in China.
Our method was to use the query string of tweets from February 1 to March 15, 2022. We then ran macros in Excel on the query and input the information into Node XL. TCM determined the betweenness centrality of the twitter data, which measures the number of times a node lies on the shortest path between other nodes. Betweenness centrality can be used to find individuals who influence the flow around a system, and in social media, so-called “influencers.” For a Twitter user, high betweenness centrality typically a large number of retweets. High betweenness centrality may also indicate a large number of users tag you in their tweets (which is often what happens with singers and other celebrities). This centrality allows us to find the most interconnected and popular individuals on Twitter using #biolabs and #Ukraine. By following the betweenness centrality breadcrumbs, TCM found that the Twitter “influencer” in this pool of data is @SpokespersonCHN, a member of the People’s Republic of China.
The impacts and reach of this disinformation “bandwagon” that the PRC is joining cannot be stemmed at the source alone as it continues to expand – building trust and authority of the entities they attempt to discredit is a critical activity.