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Woman’s life is now a ‘nightmare’ because of false coronavirus theories online

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  • US Army reservist and mother of two Maatje Benassi has been the target of a conspiracy theorist on YouTube, falsely accusing her of bringing the coronavirus through a biochemical weapon to Wuhan, China.
  • The lives of the Benassi couple, Maatje and her husband Matt, turned upside down, especially when YouTuber George Webb posted the couple’s address online, which later led to them receiving hate mails from conspiracy believers.
  • “I know it will never be the same. Every time you’re going to Google my name, it will pop up as patient zero,” Benassi said.

Maatje Benassi, a United States Army reservist and a mother of two, competed in the Military World Games in Wuhan, China in October 2019. She joined the cycling competition and later sustained a fractured rib and a concussion after an accident during her final cycling lap. Despite the crash, Benassi endured the pain and finished the race.

The injury did heal eventually but little did Benassi know that her trip to Wuhan will bring her a lot of headache. YouTuber and self-professed conspiracy theorist George Webb, 59 years old, posted a series of false accusations that Benassi brought a biochemical weapon containing the coronavirus to Wuhan last year.

“It’s like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare day after day,” Benassi said in an exclusive interview with CNN Business.

Webb’s video raked hundreds of thousands views from different countries – including the US and even China. Some Chinese social media users later embraced Webb’s false conspiracy theory as truthful and they started uploading the Mandarin-translated video over popular platforms in the country, such as, Weibo, Wechat, and Xigua.

Despite never having tested positive of COVID-19, Benassi and her husband, Matt became subjects of discussion over Chinese social media about the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Benassi couple became a target of online harassment and threats.

“I want everybody to stop harassing me, because this is cyberbullying to me and it’s gone way out of hand,” Maajte said as she fights back in tears.

Matt has tried to get the videos taken down from YouTube to prevent the false accusations from spreading online. But before YouTube erased the videos, the false accusations already went viral.

“The damage is done,” Matt said, and worse, he added that Webb’s videos have been re-uploaded on the video-sharing site.

Webb’s False Accusation Against Maatje Benasi:

Without any proof, Webb claimed that the United States government brought a biological weapon containing the virus to Wuhan. A Chinese official later used Webb’s baseless accusations and publicly declared that the U.S. military indeed brought the virus to China.

U.S. Defense secretary Mark Esper slammed the Chinese official’s words saying that a prominent official supporting a baseless theory is “completely ridiculous and irresponsible”.

In March, Webb tagged Maatje Benassi as the one who brought the said biochemical weapon. There were hundreds of U.S. military athletes who came to compete in the Wuhan-hosted sports event but Webb picked Benassi to be the subject of this theories.

Webb even accused that Italian DJ Benny Benassi, the artist behind the 2002 hit song “Satisfaction”, had coronavirus and that he, along with Maatje and Matt, were part of the “Benassi plot.”

In a news report, CNN interviewed the famous DJ and denied such accusations. He even said that he has never met the couple Maatje and Matt and that they aren’t related.

The DJ likewise pointed out that the surname Benassi is very common family name in Italy. He also clarified that he never contracted COVID-19.

Who is George Webb?

Webb, who has numerous followers on YouTube, is a known American misinformation peddler.

In 2017, CNN exposed Webb as part of a “trio conspiracy theorists” who were telling false narratives about a cargo ship carrying a “dirty bomb” scheduled to arrive at the Charleston Port in South Carolina. The claim resulted in the shutdown of the said port.

“Law enforcement will tell you that there’s nothing that we can do about it because we have free speech in this country,” Matt lamented.

He added that many have suggested seeking legal help but they know that comes with expensive fees.

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