In a recent social media post, the Embassy of Switzerland in Beijing has issued a statement to the Chinese press to take down fake news regarding an supposed Swiss biologist by the name of Wilson Edwards, who has been cited in press and social media all over China in the past several days.
According to reports from Chinese media, Edwards recently revealed in his Facebook post that the “US is so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it is reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings.”
Trouble is, this “Wilson Edwards” – who is apparently from Bern in Switzerland – doesn’t seem to exist. The embassy even cited Edwards’ Facebook account, which was found to have only 3 friends and only set up on 24 July 2021 only to publish his “commentary.” CGTN (China Global Television Network) and other outlets appear to have quietly complied.
Naturally, netizens from around the globe chimed in to find this alleged “Wilson Edwards” and the results are both hilarious and scary.
Someone found his photo
An alleged photo of the so-called Edwards was found along with his Weibo post describing that the Pfizer vaccine has side effects that include facial paralysis.
But a quick search by netizens revealed that his portrait is famous – it’s been used in plenty of ads to sell everything from furniture to fertiliser and paint.
Netizens also joked that since he was from Bern, it’s funny how they didn’t pick a more “Swiss” name to go with the nationality.
Where the rumour – and his name – originated
Netizens have been quick to trace the source of the rumour back to a Chinese media app… all the way in Fiji, called “Voice of the South Pacific” or 南太之声. The station is apparently run by the Chinese.
According to a Twitter post, CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and Global Times are all copied from a July 31 report sponsored by Xinhua News Agency which referred to Voice of South Pacific as “American.”
The timeline appeared to be:
July 24: So-called Swiss biologist Wilson Edwards published a Facebook post
July 27: Voice of South Pacific in Fiji reported
July 29: People’s Daily Overseas Edition reported
July 31: Press release by Xinhua News Agency
The Chinese media allegedly took the news from Edwards’ Facebook post, which was set up only on 24 July 2021 – in time to publish this post (it’s also quoted in full in a Facebook post by the Embassy of China in Timor-Leste):
Not the first foreign personality being questioned
On March 28, a French journalist Laurène Beaumond contributed to state media CGTN’s reporting on Xinjiang titled “My Xinjiang: halt to the tyranny of fake news”. CGTN states that Beaumond – who apparently moved to China 7 years ago – denied the accusations of genocide within the camps and vowed to fight countries like the US and the UK on the issue.
On March 31, French newspaper Le Monde reported that French journalists are given official press passes with registration numbers, but there was no record of a Beaumond ever existing in France, despite the fact that Chinese media claimed this journalist worked at several different media companies before moving to Beijing.
Someone even made a fake Twitter profile for Beaumond.
Apparently she (probably) does exist, but not with that name. According to an interview in French media Le Figaro, Beaumond is a pseudonym because she fears threats as a result of her writings, and that she “was a translator, then a presenter on CCTV.” The same “Laurène Beaumont” was also presented as a specialist in China who’s passionate about literature and Asian pop culture.
Chinese state media CGTN Français accuses Le Monde of reporting bias and that according to AFP, “the press card is not compulsory to be a journalist in France”. CGTN also reports that they have concrete proof of Laurène Beaumond’s various stays in Xinjiang and even a copy of her marriage certificate, since she married a local in Urumqi in 2014.
Another Chinese media, Global Times, published an account of a Chinese scholar who apparently knows Beaumond and demanded an apology from Le Monde for the accusation.
BBC and AFP asked China’s Foreign Ministry about the mysterious reporter. Here’s the official transcript of the reply to BBC’s question:
A recent BBC report quoted a new study by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) that exposed a sprawling network of more than 350 fake social media profiles pushing pro-China narratives. However, there is no concrete evidence that the network is linked to the Chinese government, and some of the accounts – spread across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube – use fake AI-generated profile pictures.
China and the Swiss connection
China is known to have its fair share of natural beauty, including gorgeous mountain landscapes. On May 25th, news outlet China Daily tweeted a video of an idyllic mountain town with: “#GlamorChina Wouldn’t you like to visit this peaceful getaway and enjoy play time with your dog in a small town nestled at the foot of the mountain?”
It wasn’t long until the video was flagged for copyright infringement, subsequently getting pulled down from Twitter. This is because 1) the video was actually taken by Sylvia Michel who’s a photographer and travel influencer, and 2) it wasn’t shot in China because it’s actually a video of Lake Brienz, not too far from Bern in Switzerland (what is with their obsession with Bern?).
Perhaps in a bid to escape copyright infringement, they flipped the video horizontally and edited the colours – but the image didn’t escape the eyes of netizens. Here is the original:
While the Tweet was removed, it lived on in screencaps, and the story was reported by Bored Panda. Check out the original video by Michel here, which really makes you want to visit this gorgeous Swiss village.
The Swiss Embassy wanted all mentions of this “Swiss biologist” removed from Chinese media – which is understandable. We have no idea if “Wilson Edwards” is real or made up, but search the web and you’ll still find mentions of this person here and there.