On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a Global Health Emergency as a result of a rising number of outbreaks. Overwatch’s previous brief, entitled “Dispelling Misinformation About Monkeypox,” addressed fundamental issues surrounding the disease. From the time of the brief on May 24, 2022, to the writing of this brief, the number of confirmed monkeypox cases has grown from two confirmed cases in the United States to now 8,933, and globally, the cases have risen from 92 cases as of May 7, 2022, to 30,189.
In this brief, Overwatch analysts review how the narrative for monkeypox has evolved. Since the announcement from the WHO, there has continued to be a flood of misinformation, disinformation, and finger-pointing about the origin and reasons for the continued spread of the disease.
Misinformation Fuels Disinformation
The original assessment noted, “If misinformation spreads to countries like China or Russia, they could spread disinformation about the U.S. and Europe being responsible for the virus as was done with COVID-19.”
Since May, we have seen many articles in traditional mainstream news and publicly available sites and platforms conducting their journalistic responsibilities by questioning the U.S. response. Analysts identified occasional loose comparisons to the U.S. response to COVID-19 and questions about why we did not act against the new pandemic threat.
In most cases, articles addressed reasons, and promoters of disinformation used snippets or headlines to create unfounded accusations. Analysts have seen messages by pro-CCP group Wumao, claiming that the U.S. and Western countries are sending infected birds to spread monkeypox to China and other Asian countries. Wumao, or the 50cent army, is a pro-CCP group that creates comments or articles intended to derail negative sentiment toward the CCP.
The intent is to create more division and blame. The Chinese narratives emerged in May and have continued unabated but are largely overlooked in the U.S. digital environment.
Example of translated WhatsApp message spread throughout Indonesia:
Hey, guys. No matter where you are, if you see a bird that can’t fly, can’t walk or struggle on the ground, you should never catch it, for fear of monkeypox infection. The relevant community has informed you, please pay attention to it. Remember United States and Western countries used the birds to carry take the Monkeypox virus to spread to the Asian region! My sister sent it from Germany and asked me to inform family and friends immediately. Have relatives and friends on the notice, do not because of compassion, get infected unknowingly.
This message was baseless and allegedly produced by Wumao. References to the message were accompanied by keywords such as ’‘hoax’ and ‘fake story’ and have been mainly seen on Indonesian information platforms1.
This has illuminated that the CCP wants a vector of influence in Indonesia and surprisingly enough, there are truth watch dogs actively combating it. (Fitri Haryanti Harsono from Liputan6 and Dr. Adrian Wong from Techarp.com).
Other sources, such as the New Federal State of China (NFSC) Himalaya Australia, combat CCP influence by generating more false narratives compounding monkeypox misinformation. This can be incredibly dangerous when dealing with sensitive issues relating to pandemics or global health crises.
This post by the NFSC’s Miles Guo was spread across all major social media platforms3. There is an air of provocation in Guo’s voice as he speaks in his video of the CCPs potential retaliation due to the recent Taiwan visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In this video (*reference Wayback Machine if taken down from Twitter), Guo alleges that the CCP will create a new virus that will “most likely originate from the Middle East” and would be a variant of other diseases or created by “mating” desert wildlife.
The art of being first is how disinformation campaigns gain traction. The above post is meant to provoke the CCP into a response, legitimizing Guo and NFSC_HAGnews’ narrative. Being first in the narrative allows the NFSC_HAGNews to gain a following that observes the accused (CCP), having to combat quickly drafted messages of the accuser (NFSC_HAGNews).
As the number of verified infections grows, disinformation narratives will grow. Small enablers exacerbating public opinion in the U.S. will continue to add compelling and thought-provoking ideas on top of any press release or news article to capture and hold an audience’s attention.
* Specific posts or videos referencing misinformation and disinformation are often deleted from major social media and news sites. Using the Wayback machine, researchers can reference once deleted posts, articles, and videos that were archived. The Miles Guo video has been captured here in the Wayback Machine.
Targeted LGBTQ Community
What has taken hold of the U.S. social media landscape is the predominance of infections within the gay community, triggering emotional responses outside and within the community, in both pro and anti-camps. The CDC’s confirmation of the first monkeypox cases in the United States in two unrelated children at the end of July 2022 was when this was most apparent. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made the following statement in a virtual event with the Washington Post, “Both of those children are traced back to individuals who come from the men-who-have-sex-with-men community, the gay men’s community…” The official statement released by the CDC went further on to state that both cases were “likely the result of household transmission.” And even though the release states that sexual contact is not the only way to spread the disease and heterosexuals can contract monkeypox just as quickly as persons who identify as “gay,” the polarizing narratives began almost immediately. On the same day of the updated release Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene asked in a tweet, “If monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” The tweet has over 38k likes and 9,879 retweets as of this writing.
The formula is textbook: CDC officials or public officials provide the most current information possible, a prominent official or social media influencer makes a rhetorical comment, and the ensuing chain of response allows disinformation narratives to flow into the larger conversation.
From the creation of fake memes pushing a particular narrative, such as the one created by Twitter user “The Ferryman’s Toll,” that has been retweeted 281 times.
To the reports of hate crimes being committed towards LGBTQ members, such as an August 9, 2022, report by the Daily News (Assuncao, 2022) that a Washington, D.C. gay couple was attacked by teens who called them “monkeypox f—-s.”
When facts are disregarded in order to increase one’s number of supporters, likes, or political status, echo chambers are created, and the ensuing misinformation and disinformation propagated within them can have disastrous results. Echo chambers exist because social media users do not take personal responsibility for information shared, and sharing occurs without full context or conducting further research, which can prevent polarizing narratives before they divert attention from the main issue.
World Health Organization (WHO) Perspective
The WHO closely monitors the outbreak and favors international cooperation and information sharing with partners and member states. Since the declaration, their messaging has been in line with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding how an individual contracts the virus. However, while WHO states in one tweet that “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and can fuel the outbreak,” WHO also has multiple tweets singling out the Men of the LGBTQ community.
Unfortunately, discriminatory tweets are becoming increasingly popular. While WHO’s messaging around monkeypox has focused on those currently most affected by the spread of the disease, gay men, there is an underlying danger that this approach could add fuel to the narrative that this is a disease affecting gay men only. As with Covid 19, when government messaging transforms to fit the new realities of a crisis, old messaging is often resurfaced and contorted to create disinformation. While Twitter can be an efficient medium to publish alerts, the lack of context allowed by character limits can often limit qualifying statements and the addition of vital context.
We assess that misinformation and disinformation messaging will closely follow the increased number of those infected with monkeypox. This issue’s vector of influence won’t just stay within the confines of the United States. We have already demonstrated that anti-US and anti-CCP influencers are attempting to control the story in Asia and possibly the Middle East.
We stand by our original assessment that if outbreak numbers exceed acceptable levels, the likelihood of quarantines or mandatory government policies could be implemented to mitigate the spread of infection. If this happens, combined with negative popular sentiment due to successful disinformation messaging, we could see in-person protests leading to pockets of civil unrest.
Overwatch will continue to monitor Monkeypox-related issues arising in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Russia, and the U.S.
*Keyword associations to keep on alert; supply chain disruption, lockdown, mandatory vaccination, quarantine, Monkeypox, MPV, MPXV, contact tracing, or hMPXV.
*Google Alerts allows you to create a list of keywords to follow and have articles and posts sent daily to your email
OSINT Monitor Workflow
IBM Watson News Explorer
CDC Infection Rate Map
World Health Organization
- Adrian Wong, Is U.S. Sending Infected Birds To Spread Monkeypox?!
Anas Surya, Hoaxes Of The United States And European Countries Deliberately SpreadIng Monkey Pox To Asia – NEW OR HOAX
Fitri Haryanti Harsono, Viral message chain of transmission of Monkeypox carried by birds, is it?
Viral Pesan Berantai Penularan Cacar Monyet Dibawa oleh Burung, Apa Iya? – Health Liputan6.com (www-liputan6-com.translate.goog)
World Today, Viral message chain of transmission of monkeypox carried by birds, is it? https://www.world-today-news.com/viral-message-chain-of-transmission-of-monkeypox-carried-by-birds-is-it/
- Miles Guo, The CCP will most likely unleash another new virus!
https://gettr.com/post/p1lbsb5b7bb , (2) NFSC_HAGnews (@NFSC_HAGnews) / Twitter , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrAmk2N5VQI , Chinese whistleblower Miles Guo: “Monkeypox is just an excuse! (bitchute.com)
- Muri Assuncao, Washington, D.C. gay couple say they were attacked by 2 teens, who called them ‘monkeypox f—-ts’
- World Health Organization (WHO) Twitter Page https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1552286397054287875