Twitter has suspended the account of a Chinese academic who suggested COVID-19 was made in a lab and intentionally released.
The social media profile of Dr. Li-Meng Yan, with just under 60,000 followers, went dark this week as the scientist claimed to have scientific evidence the Chinese government was involved in manufacturing the highly-infectious novel coronavirus.
A pre-print report pushed online this week by Dr. Yan and three colleagues contained a series of unsubstantiated claims about the origins of the global pandemic.
Dr. Yan and her colleagues appear affiliated with the Rule of Law Society, a group founded by Steve Bannon, the former advisor to President Donald Trump.
On Tucker Carlson Tonight Tuesday, where Dr. Yan was labeled as a “whistleblower,” she claimed that COVID-19 is a “man-made virus” and “not from nature,” echoing comments previously made by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Dr. Yan said the virus was manufactured by China. “I have evidence to show why they can do it, what they have done, how [they did it],” she told the Fox host.
“The scientific world also keeps silent… works together with the Chinese Communist Party, they don’t want people to know his truth. That’s why I get suspended, I get suppressed, I am the target that Chinese Communist Party wants disappeared.”
Twitter declined to comment on the individual case.
In May, the platform introduced new labels and warnings messages designed to show “context and information” on tweets containing disputed COVID-19 claims.
It said: “We may use… labels and warning messages to provide additional explanations or clarifications in situations where the risks of harm associated with a tweet are less severe but where people may still be confused or misled by the content.”
The suspension of Dr. Yan’s account goes one step further than a warning label or flag. It remains unclear if there was a specific tweet that violated policy.
Reports suggest the scientist’s profile had four visible posts, with one being a link to the preprint paper shared this week containing some of her supposed evidence. The report was not peer-reviewed, which is the standard academic evaluation process.
“Natural origin theory, although widely accepted, lacks substantial support,” the group’s paper stated. “The alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory is, however, strictly censored on peer-reviewed scientific journals.”
It claimed to contain “genomic, structural, medical, and literature evidence” about how COVID-19 could be a lab project created by using bat coronaviruses as a template, but in reality appeared to have little scientific evidence, and no new information.
The claims in the paper were rejected by the wider scientific community. “[The] report cannot be given any credibility in its current form,” Andrew Preston, who is an expert in microbial pathogenesis at the U.K.’s University of Bath, told Newsweek.
In a statement to ITV last week, a spokesperson for the University of Hong Kong, where Dr. Yan said she worked, stated: Dr. Yan’s statement does not accord with the key facts as we understand them. They have no scientific basis but resemble hearsay.”
An unnamed professor who the academic had worked under at the university told the U.K-based TV channel: “Dr. Yan was a postdoctoral fellow in my lab. Her research had nothing to do with human-to-human transmission. All mainstream scientists have failed to find any solid evidence that Sars-Cov-2 [COVID-19] was man-made.”
After posting a clip of the interview segment, the Tucker Carlson Tonight Facebook page claimed the Mark Zuckerberg-led platform was attempting to censor the video.
A notice was placed on the footage that said: “The primary claims in the information are factually inaccurate.” Facebook shared links to three stories used for fact-checking.
A Tucker Carlson Tonight post on Twitter linking to the video remained active at the time of writing. The video of the segment was also still available on YouTube.
Claims that COVID-19 was made in a lab have been disputed by U.S. scientist Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci told National Geographic back in May this year: “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”
In April, Newsweek revealed a revised assessment into the origins of COVID-19 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency included the possibility the novel coronavirus could have been accidentally released from an infectious diseases lab in Wuhan city, where the infectious disease was first observed, due to “unsafe” practices.
The classified report, dated March 27, said there was “no credible evidence” to suggest that the disease was released intentionally or created as a “biological weapon.”