It was a busy weekend on Twitter for observers of China, as unsubstantiated rumors of a silent coup unfolding against president Xi Jinping dominated social media.
While it remains unclear where the chatter started, at least one major TV news channel in India was a little too quick to leap on a seemingly informative Twitter thread by the Beijing correspond for German news outlet Der Spiegel.
Mocking the coup rumours, Georg Fahrion tweeted images of everyday life going on as normal in Beijing, joking that he had undertaken his investigation “at considerable personal risk”.
Many were quick to appreciate the reporter’s wit, but the right-wing Hindi news channel Republic Bharat appears not to have got the joke, instead using Fahrion’s pictures as “exclusive” evidence of an ongoing coup.
In a 10-minute TV report, which has now been deleted from Republic’s social media profiles, the channel used the German reporter’s “testimony” to claim that “elite forces [are] being deployed at Xinhua Gate, where Xi Jinping resides”, according to an Indian fact-checking website, Boomlive.in.
It also reportedly aired “exclusive photos” from Beijing of Mr Xi’s “house arrest”, as the channel questioned why Chinese state media, as well as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had not issued any statement regarding the coup.
The rumors about the house arrest of China’s president began when an exiled Chinese journalist named Zhao Lanjian said there appeared to be mass flight cancellations because of “unexplained” reasons, reported ThePrint.
The speculation was fueled further after a media network connected to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, New Tang Dynasty (NTDTV), and overseas Chinese YouTuber Jennifer Zeng repeated the claim.
Zeng went a step further, sharing a clip of a military convoy traveling in China. And commentators also leapt on the fact that Mr Xi missed a national defense and military reform seminar soon after returning from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan.
It all started around a day after China’s vice minister of public safety, Sun Lijun, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for challenging the president’s authority.
Following the rumors of a coup d’etat, Fahrion shared a series of pictures from Beijing, aimed at making fun of those sharing the unsubstantiated rumours.
“Today in Beijing, I investigated the China coup so you don’t have to. At considerable personal risk, I ventured out to some neuralgic key points in the city. Disturbing finds. Brace yourselves,” he began as he shared a selfie.
“This is Xinhua Gate, the main entrance to the Zhongnanhai compound, where the entire central leadership resides and works, including Xi Jinping. Elite paratroopers have wrested control over the gate, cunningly disguised as the five middle-aged dudes who always stand there,” he wrote in the tongue-in-cheek tweet.
Indian fact-checker Mohammed Zubair, along with several others, later alerted Fahrion to a video of Republic Bharat’s coverage, saying: “A sarcastic thread by [Georg Fahrion] we [China Coup] was picked up by ‘India’s most viewed English/Hindi News Channel’ [Republic] [Republic Bharat].
“The pics shared in the Twitter thread were shown by the channel as ‘Exclusive Pics’. That’s the state of most TV News channels in India.”
Fahrion tweeted: “Since an Indian TV channel is now ‘reporting’ on this thread, let me repeat: Two things are infinite, the universe and man’s stupidity.”