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Twitter bans Zero Hedge account after it doxxed Chinese researcher over coronavirus

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Twitter on Friday permanently suspended the right-leaning finance blog Zero Hedge after it published a conspiracy theory suggesting that a Chinese scientist might be responsible for the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

A Twitter representative did not comment on what specifically prompted the suspension, saying only that Zero Hedge was removed for violating the social media giant's platform-manipulation policy. Twitter defines platform manipulation as "using Twitter to engage in bulk, aggressive, or deceptive activity that misleads others and/or disrupts their experience."

But Zero Hedge's founder, who uses the pseudonym Tyler Durden, wrote in a Friday afternoon post that he received a notice from Twitter saying he violated the platform's rules against abuse and targeted harassment.

"It is news to us that this website has (ever) 'engaged in the targeted harassment of someone,' " Durden wrote.

Bloomberg News reported that it received an email from Durden saying he believed the suspension was "unjustified, and likely motivated by reasons other than the stated ones."

According to Durden, the suspension appeared to be related to a Zero Hedge post from earlier in the week titled "Is This The Man Behind The Global Coronavirus Pandemic?"

BuzzFeed News published an article Friday debunking the post, which promoted the discredited claim that the new coronavirus could have emerged from biological weapons research at a virology institute in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began. Zero Hedge listed the name, photograph and contact information for a researcher at the institute, and it called on readers to "pay [him] a visit" if they want to "find out what really caused the coronavirus pandemic."

The article, as well as other Zero Hedge posts making unfounded claims about the coronavirus, were shared thousands of times on social media.

Zero Hedge's claims were part of a wave of posts, photos and videos that have emerged in recent weeks peddling misinformation about the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has infected nearly 12,000 people around the world. More than 250 people have died from the virus, all of them in China.

Twitter, Facebook and Google have scrambled to curtail the misleading content, pledging to boost accurate information about the outbreak and crack down on users who promote falsehoods.

Experts have rejected the idea that the virus could be man-made or the product of biological weapons research.

"Based on the virus genome and properties, there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus," Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told The Washington Post this week.

Zero Hedge launched in 2009, mostly featuring news and commentary about financial markets from a libertarian perspective. In recent years, the blog has amplified right-wing conspiracy theories on a range of topics. In November, Zero Hedge erroneously reported that the head of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the current impeachment trial, had been "indicted" by Ukraine's prosecutor general.

Published : February 01, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Derek Hawkins · TECHNOLOGY