US military reportedly used social media to spread anti-vax propaganda in the Philippines

The campaign was meant to sow distrust of China during COVID’s peak, according to a Reuters investigation.

REUTERS / Reuters

The US military used fake social media accounts to spread propaganda that was designed to discredit China’s COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines during the height of the pandemic, according to a bombshell report from Reuters. The anti-vax campaign ran from spring 2020 until mid-2021, and was intended to “counter what [the Pentagon] perceived as China’s growing influence in the Philippines,” the publication found in its investigation. The Philippines saw low vaccination rates through 2021 even months after China’s Sinovac vaccine arrived in the area, and recorded nearly 50,000 COVID deaths by November of that year.

In one example of the US’s anti-vax messaging cited by Reuters, an account in 2020 tweeted, “COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” The campaign also pushed the narrative that China’s vaccines were “haram” — or forbidden under Islamic law — because of a pig derivative in the ingredients.

Former military officials who spoke with Reuters said the Pentagon had propaganda accounts on X, Facebook and Instagram, and was warned in late 2020 by Facebook executives that the accounts had been identified and were acting in violation of the platform’s policies. Some of these accounts, however, ultimately weren’t taken down after the Pentagon said it would stop using them for its anti-vax campaign. Reuters notified X of at least 300 accounts it found during its investigation that appeared to be part of the operation. These were determined to be bots and removed.

According to Reuters, the campaign was launched after the Chinese government made unfounded claims that the COVID-19’s spread could be traced back to the US. In a statement to the publication, a Pentagon spokesperson brought up China’s disinformation campaign, and said the military “uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the U.S., allies, and partners.”