SOUTH Oxfordshire councillors have raised the alarm after they were apparently targeted by a Trump-backing, Chinese conspiracy theory-peddling website spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
The email, sent to members of South Oxfordshire District Council, is from what appears to be a personal Gmail account, but includes links to the website of the Epoch Times, a news organisation run by dissidents from China, who in recent years have backed Donald Trump’s presidency and promoted several prominent conspiracy theories.
In the email, titled ‘Please support our review of China policy’, councillors are invited to watch an hour-long documentary and read a digital version of Epoch Times' 60-page March/April edition.
Both the video and newspaper make claims that China covered up the spread of coronavirus in early 2020.
In other areas of the UK, there have been reports of councillors receiving emails directly from Epoch Times itself rather than from proxy email addresses.
One of the SODC councillors who received the email was Alexandrine Kantor.
She said she had not received any emails of a similar type since having started her role on the council in May last year.
Ms Kantor said: “We usually received lobbying emails based on general issues or local issues: the environment, the local plan and so on and obviously they are relevant to something we do, but this one is completely out of the blue.”
She warned that ‘propaganda’ from the email could sway some people who received the email, if it was sent en masse to hundreds of different councillors, and said demanding the virus be renamed to the Wuhan virus might lead to a rising fear of people of Chinese descent living in the UK.
She added: “Hostility and racism against Asian people has risen a lot since the crisis.”
There were 267 hate crimes against Chinese people or people of Asian origin living in the UK between January and March this year.
In all of 2019 there were 375 hate crimes against the same group, and in 2018 there were 360.
The email was apparently sent to only some members of SODC’s Lib Dem group, but not all of them.
Green councillor Robin Bennett said he recalled receiving the email but deleted it.
Councillors on the neighbouring Vale of White Horse District Council – which has close links to SODC – have not received them at all.
According to the New Statesman councils up and down the UK have also received emails either from Epoch Times directly, or from proxy emails.
A screenshot from the email.
Authorities which have received emails providing the same links include those in Bradford, Sutton, West Sussex, Wigan, and parts of London.
There are reports that members of the Scottish parliament have also received similar emails.
Epoch Times is part of a company called the Epoch Media Group, which is itself a media extension of a Falun Gong.
In 2019, NBC News reported that Epoch Media was among the highest paying social media advertisers promoting pro-Trump adverts on Facebook, second only to the Trump campaign.
It was reported to have spent $1.5 million dollars on pro-Trump adverts over a six month period up until August last year.
Through its various websites and YouTube accounts, Epoch Times has also promoted conspiracy theories that the American ‘deep state’ is determined to bring about the president’s downfall, as well as anti-vaccination conspiracies.