Now fears for her life as the false stories are spreading on YouTube.
It’s a flat out lie.
YouTube will pull videos critical of people blaming China for the Wu W.h.O. Kung Flu but for some reason not this one that threatens the woman’s life.
They must be bowing to their chink gods.
The false claims are spreading across YouTube every day, so far racking up hundreds of thousands of apparent views, and have been embraced by Chinese Communist Party media. Despite never having tested positive for the coronavirus or experienced symptoms, Benassi and her husband are now subjects of discussion on Chinese social media about the outbreak, including among accounts that are known drivers of large-scale coordinated activities by their followers.
The claims have turned their lives upside down. The couple say their home address has been posted online and that, before they shut down their accounts, their social media inboxes were overrun with messages from believers of the conspiracy.
“It’s like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare day after day,” Maatje Benassi told CNN Business in an exclusive interview, the first time she has spoken publicly since being smeared online.
As the coronavirus has spread around the world, so has misinformation about the disease. Technology giants have touted the steps they are taking to combat coronavirus misinformation, but these efforts have failed to help the Benassis. The family’s suffering highlights the potential for blatant falsehoods to be rewarded and amplified by social media platforms. It also serves as a powerful reminder that misinformation online, however wild or obviously untrue it may seem, can have real and lasting consequences offline.
Maajte and her husband Matt are still active in their government jobs. Maajte is a civilian employee at the US Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia where she works as a security officer. Matt, a retired Air Force officer, is a civilian employee with the Air Force at the Pentagon.
Despite working for the US government, the couple are experiencing the same feelings of helplessness familiar to others who have been the target of harassment and misinformation. “I want everybody to stop harassing me, because this is cyberbullying to me and it’s gone way out of hand,” Maajte said while fighting back tears.
Matt has tried to get the videos taken down from YouTube and to prevent their spread online. The couple said they contacted an attorney, who told them there was little that could be done, and local police, who told them much the same.
Origins of a coronavirus conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theories are not dissimilar to viruses, in that they evolve and mutate to spread and survive. Before Maatje Benassi became the main protagonist in this conspiracy, variations had circulated online for months.
In the early weeks of the coronavirus, conspiracy theorists began claiming, without evidence, that it was a US biological weapon. Later one member of the Chinese government publicly promoted the notion that the US military brought the virus to China. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was “completely ridiculous and it’s irresponsible” for someone speaking on behalf of the Chinese government to promote such a claim.
It wasn’t until March, months after the first reported coronavirus cases in China, that conspiracy theorists turned their focus to Maatje Benassi. The baseless theory began with her participation in October in the Military World Games, essentially the military Olympics, which was hosted by Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak began last year.
Maatje Benassi competed in the cycling competition there, suffering an accident on the final lap that left her with a fractured rib and a concussion. Despite the crash, Benassi still finished the race, but it turned out to be the start of something worse. While hundreds of athletes from the US military took part in the games, Maatje Benassi was plucked out of the group and given a starring role in the conspiracy theory.