Twitter on Thursday slapped a fact-checking label on a pair of tweets by a Chinese government official claiming that the US Army brought the novel coronavirus to the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The social networking company added a blue link that says, "Get the facts about COVID-19" to a post on Twitter by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao that was published on March 12.
"When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan," Zhao wrote on Twitter. "US owe us an explanation!"
Clicking on the blue fact-checking label directs readers to a page on Twitter with the headline: "WHO says evidence suggests COVID-19 originated in animals and was not produced in a lab."
In another tweet that was also fact-checked by Twitter, Zhao encouraged his followers to read and repost an article he had linked to claiming the coronavirus originated in the US.
"The tweets in question contain potentially misleading content about COVID-19 and have been labeled to provide additional context to the public," a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement when asked why the fact-check labels were added to Zhao's tweets this week despite being published in March. "These actions are in line with the approach we shared earlier this month"
Twitter's flagging of Zhao's tweets comes after it called two of US President Donald Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots "potentially misleading" earlier this week. Once a label has been applied to a tweet, it can no longer be liked, retweeted or replied to, although other Twitter users can retweet the original tweet with their own comment attached.
In response, Trump threatened to shutdown social networks for allegedly censoring conservative speech. The US President also signed an executive order on Thursday that targets social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, through a proposed re-examination of online platforms' legal protections.
Social media companies have repeatedly denied they censor conservative speech, but Twitter's fact-checking of Trump's tweets have reignited a debate about whether they're neutral platforms or publishers.
Both Twitter and Facebook have said they don't want to be an "arbiter of truth."