Fact VS. Fake: Your Guide to Cornavirus (COVID-19) Content

Misinformation about coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading just like the disease. False “facts,” conspiracy theories, and bad advice pass from person-to-person with each repost. Let’s quarantine the worst misinformation websites and social media profiles.

In This Article

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Misinformation Roundup
How to Spot Misinformation
Understand the Incentive
How They Manipulate You
Verify from Multiple Sources
Ways to Help

The following information details the most popular misinformation about coronavirus, followed by tips on how to stop spreading fake “facts.”

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Misinformation Roundup

People claiming to be medical professionals, possess “insider information,” or post as “Eye-witnesses,” are flooding social media feeds. They don’t hold up to fact-checking and often contradict official statements. Most coronavirus misinformation falls into a few specific categories.

Four Main Categories

  • Conspiracy Theories
  • False Statistics
  • Vaccines & Treatments
  • Press & Politics

If you are confused by coronavirus claims, test them against these categories.

Conspiracy Theories

The most popular conspiracy theories focus on the origin of the virus with undertones of racism or government (read: Deep State) mistrust.

Claim

The coronavirus started as an experiment and was intentionally released by the Chinese government as a biological weapon. It could also be linked to U.S. politicians.

You can see a list of the most popular versions at Buzzfeed.

Rebuttal

Each of these claims have been debunked by reliable sources. Scientists have stated that it appears to be naturally-occurring and spreading from human contact.

Sources
Jessica McDonald (24 January 2020). “Social Media Posts Spread Bogus Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory”factcheck.orgArchived from the original on 6 February 2020. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
“As coronavirus misinformation spreads on social media, Facebook removes posts”. Reuters. 1 February 2020. Archived from the original on 6 February 2020. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
Staff, Media Matters. “Fox guest Jerry Falwell Jr. speculates that North Korea “got together with China” to create coronavirus”Media Matters for America. Retrieved 13 March 2020.

False Statistics

Falsified “facts” have been circulating in the form of memes, infographics, and social media posts.

Claim

“Leaked” death and infection numbers tell “the real story”.

Rebuttal

These claims have obvious inconsistencies in their “facts.” Also, the sources are not reliable outlets.

Sources
“China coronavirus: Misinformation spreads online about origin and scale”BBC News. 30 January 2020. Archived from the original on 4 February 2020. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
Sharma, Ruchira (11 February 2020). “A massively shared story about the ‘real’ Coronavirus death toll is fake: Here’s how we know”iNewsArchived from the original on 29 February 2020. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
“Taiwan accuses China of waging cyber ‘war’ to disrupt virus fight”. Reuters. 29 February 2020. Archived from the original on 1 March 2020. Retrieved 12 March 2020.

Vaccines & Treatments

Several groups, particularly those who sell health products, have distributed false information about vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

Claims

Vaccines and treatments already exist, including:

  • Snorting cocaine can sterilize your nostrils and prevent coronavirus contamination
  • Hand sanitizer is only “antibacterial” and does not kill coronovirus
  • Gargling “Miracle Mineral Supplement” will kill the virus
  • Colloidal silver solution (as sold on televangelist Jim Bakker’s website) is a remedy

Rebuttals

The World Health Organization has confirmed that no treatments or vaccines exist at the time. The best solution is preventing the disease from spreading rapidly. Vaccines are currently in development and a clear timeline has not been confirmed.

Sources
Crellin, Zac (9 March 2020). “Sorry To The French People Who Thought Cocaine Would Protect Them From Coronavirus”Pedestrian.TVArchived from the original on 11 March 2020. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
Crellin, Zac (4 March 2020). “Those Viral Posts Claiming Hand Sanitiser Doesn’t Kill Coronavirus Are Wrong & Here’s Why”Pedestrian.TVArchived from the original on 5 March 2020. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
EDT, Jason Lemon On 3/12/20 at 4:43 PM (12 March 2020). “Conservative pastor claims he “healed” viewers of coronavirus through their TV screens”Newsweek. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
Sommer, Will (28 January 2020). “QAnon-ers’ Magic Cure for Coronavirus: Just Drink Bleach!”Daily BeastArchived from the original on 10 February 2020. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
“WHO: ‘no known effective’ treatments for new coronavirus”. Reuters. 5 February 2020. Archived from the original on 5 February 2020. Retrieved 6 February 2020.

Press & Politics

Initially, President Donald Trump and his political allies downplayed the coronavirus threat. Subsequently, the press has criticized this approach to public health. This has led to a political alignment in some information about COVID-19.

I’m not going to parse each claim here. My general advice is to look to sources like All Sides to compare the political slant on COVID-19 coverage.

Sources
Jackson, David. “Coronavirus death rate is 3.4%, World Health Organization says, Trump says ‘hunch’ tells him that’s wrong”USA TodayArchived from the original on 5 March 2020. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
“Trump has many hunches about the coronavirus. Here’s what the experts say”. NBC News. Archived from the original on 6 March 2020. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
Staff, Media Matters. “Fox guest Jerry Falwell Jr. speculates that North Korea “got together with China” to create coronavirus”Media Matters for America. Retrieved 13 March 2020.

Dubious coronavirus claims start from similar points of origin — websites and social media accounts that profit from misinformation and disinformation.


Top Websites Publishing False Coronavirus Information

(Source: NewsGuard)

United States

  • ActivistPost.com
  • AmericanThinker.com
  • BeforeItsNews.com
  • BigLeaguePolitics.com
  • DCClothesline.com
  • GreatGameIndia.com
  • GreenMedInfo.com
  • HealthImpactNews.com
  • HealthNutNews.com
  • HumansAreFree.com
  • InfoWars.com
  • Intellihub.com
  • JimBakkerShow.com
  • JimHumble.co
  • Mercola.com
  • NaturalHealth365.com
  • RedStateWatcher.com
  • RushLimbaugh.com
  • SOTT.net
  • TheBL.com
  • TheEpochTimes.com
  • TheMindUnleashed.com
  • TheTruthAboutCancer.com
  • WakingTimes.com
  • WND.com
  • ZeroHedge.com
  • NaturalNews.com Network (54 domains)
    • NaturalNews.com
    • Banned.news
    • Biased.news
    • CaliforniaCollapse.news
    • CDC.news
    • Censorship.news
    • Conspiracy.news
    • Cures.news
    • Depopulation.news
    • Disinfo.news
    • Eugenics.news
    • Extinction.news
    • FactCheck.news
    • Faked.news
    • Freedom.news
    • Health.news
    • Herbs.news
    • Honest.news
    • Infections.news
    • Journalism.news
    • MediaFactWatch.com
    • MedicalExtremism.com
    • Medicine.news
    • NaturalCures.news
    • NaturalNewsRadio.com
    • Naturopathy.news
    • NewsFakes.com
    • NewsTarget.com
    • NYTWatch.com
    • OpenBorders.news
    • Outbreak.news
    • Pandemic.news
    • Panic.news
    • PlantMedicine.news
    • PopulationControl.news
    • Propaganda.news
    • RealInvestigations.news
    • Remedies.news
    • Risk.news
    • ScienceClowns.com
    • ScienceFraud.news
    • Science.news
    • Scientific.news
    • SHTF.news
    • Superbugs.news
    • TechGiants.news
    • Technocrats.news
    • Twisted.news
    • Tyranny.news
    • Uprising.news
    • VaccineDamage.news
    • VaccineInjuryNews.com
    • Vaccines.news
    • WaPoop.news
    • WashingtonPosted.news

This is only the U.S. portion of the list. The original source (NewsGuard) has websites divided by country.

You can identify misinformation about COVID-19 by using the following tips.


How to Spot Misinformation

I’ve written several guides to help people spot fake news, click-bait, and bad journalism. Currently, 68% of Americans get their news from social media — which is flooded with misinformation.

The key to identifying coronavirus misinformation?

You start by asking who benefits from the dispersion of the information and why they created it.

Misinformation Matrix by Wardle
Image from First Draft

Types of Misinformation

The intent becomes clear when you sort misinformation into categories. Claire Wardle, a news researcher who created guidelines to identify fake news has created several helpful categories.

  • Poor Journalism
  • Parody
  • To Provoke or Punk
  • Passion
  • Partisanship
  • Profit
  • Political influence
  • Propaganda
First Draft Types of Misinformation from Wardle
Image from First Draft

7 Types of Misinformation

  1. Satire or parody — “no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool”)
  2. False connection — “when headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content”
  3. Misleading content —“misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual”
  4. False context —“when genuine content is shared with false contextual information”
  5. Imposter content —“when genuine sources are impersonated” with false, made-up sources
  6. Manipulated content — “when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive”, as with a “doctored” photo)
  7. Fabricated content — “new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm”

You can spot each of these types of content when you understand the incentive behind generating misinformation.

Understand the Incentive

Most misinformation content creators make their money through advertising placements. Media outlets that rely on advertising revenue (as opposed to subscription services) generally use a pay-per-click model for online ads. 

How PPC Works

This model drives traffic to websites when an advertisers pays a publisher upon the click of an ad. Most of them rely on ad networks (like Google ads). The advertisers bid on keyword phrases relevant to the target market. This is the same process that social media sites use for ads.

When placed directly with a website, like a banner ad, they pay to be placed alongside certain content. Also, they may generate the ad based on keyword queries. You may notice these with the heading “sponsored links” or “sponsored ads.”

It’s the same process when a website pops up in Search Engine results. If you see a link, or an adwords display, or a display ad, it counts as an impression. When you click, it’s a click. 

That is what the advertiser is paying for — a mixture of those impressions and clicks. 

It’s a little more complex with regard to viewing videos, listening to podcasts, and other mediums.

Most of the advertising on the internet relies on this model.

The Problem with PPC

When PPC was first developed in the 1990s, it revolutionized advertising because it democratized access. Anyone could advertise, even with a small amount of money. Also, advertisers didn’t need to know much about marketing. They just needed to let the algorithm do the work.

Cost-per-click ($) = Advertising cost ($) / Ads clicked (#)

In most cases, PPC ads aren’t placed directly by the companies displayed in the ads. They place them through an ad buying group or an ad distributor. And most of the time, the ad buying group pushes those to another party who manages placement. So, advertisers often aren’t aware of exactly which websites are hosting their ads. 

Anyone can place a small ad buy of $100 and find the listing pushed to dozens of sites.

Although advertisers can ask not to be placed on certain types of websites (like porn, drugs, or terrorism). However, that relies on sites being properly identified as such.

That’s the number one issue with the PPC model. Their algorithm struggles to keep up with corrupt websites, like clickbait, because their method of measurement is easily manipulated (with a mix of automated and human review) and favors sketchy content.

This creates an environment where misinformation thrives. Content creators manipulate people into clicking on their links — to get paid for impressions on the ads placed within their content.


How Content Creators Manipulate You

Most of the spread comes from human beings, not bots. Savvy content creators emotionally manipulate the masses using the following techniques.

1. Engaging Content

Most misinformation simply engaging. The premise is funny, startling, or fascinating. They use eye-catching adjectives, colorful graphics, or mysterious documentation.

2. The Straw Man

Certain media figures always draw ire for their controversial views. You’ll see content that takes their comments out of context, or sometimes making something up, to generate shock. Basically, they give the impression of taking down their opponents argument by refuting something that their opponent never actually said — or taking statements out of context.

3. Appeal to Emotion

Strong emotional touchpoints dominate misinformation. You’ll see words like “hate” or “love” right in the headline.

Common tactics include:

  • Fear 
  • Flattery 
  • Pity
  • Ridicule 
  • Spite
  • Judgmental language
  • Wishful thinking

Headlines with emotional words and bold statements are the most likely to go viral.

4. Exploit Cultural Identity or Social Identity

Misinformation can be linked to a cultural identity or social identity. Most people define their sense belonging based on association with a group.

Social competition allows clickbait to leverage your need to succeed within your ingroup and marginalize the outgroup.

These assertions allows you to establish your superiority over an “outgroup”.

5. Overwhelm

We like to think that people make rational decisions by weighing the facts presented to them. However, the Elaboration Likelihood Model posits that persuasive messaging relies on distracting people. This actually works best when people have a low investment in the decision — like scrolling on a phone.

Most disinformation relies on distraction to overwhelm you — making it hard to find the truth.


Verify from Multiple Sources

Before you repost an article, try reading it through and checking the sources. If you can’t find an original, reliable source for the information, wait until the information is confirmed. Familiarize yourself with watchdog websites that both evaluate sources and link to information debunking the stories.

Watchdog websites

As a best practice, try reading 3-5 articles about a story to get the full details. You can use that to compare the slant or bias. Misinformation won’t stand up to this level of fact-checking.


Ways to Help

Please share the easiest tips on your own social media profile to help spread the truth. The helpful Google Doc, named “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources” lists:

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo. These sites specialize in taking a piece of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts.”
  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources.
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not always go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not specifically included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Stop the Spread

Please consider posting the following links on your own social media to help prevent to spread of false information.

  1. Misinformation related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic from Wikipedia
  2. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19) from The World Health Organization (WHO)
  3. Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center from NewsGuard

If you’re not comfortable taking an active stance on your on accounts, please cease reposting any information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) that does not come from either The World Health Organization (WHO) or The Center for Disease Control (CDC). Also, click through to make sure it’s not a look-a-like URL (see list above).

To summarize:

  • Only share articles and links that come from solid sources.
  • Stop your own impulse to boost clickbait. Try not to click. If you do click, report the ad or post that led you there.
  • Educate yourself on the worst clickbait websites, including those that generate fake news.
  • Push back on advertisers that cooperate with unscrupulous websites. Make them aware of their ad placement by questioning them directly. Boycott them, if necessary.

COVID-19 misinformation is spreading fast but we can stop it if we quarantine the worst website and accounts.

Don’t forget to Share this post!

If you appreciated the information in this article, please follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I typically post about happier topics like color psychology or slime vides.


PLEASE NOTE:
1). I will not be keeping the list of claims on this post up-to-date. This information was sourced at the time of posting — see timestamp. Please visit Wikipedia or NewsGuard to see the most current information and lists. Any retractions or edits will be listed at the bottom of this post.
2). This post is focused on coronavirus misinformation, not media bias. Read The War of the Words to learn more about agenda-setting in the media.
3). I am writing from my perspective as a marketing content creator and freelance writer. For medical advice, please consult your medical doctor,  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization


If You Liked This…

The Psychology Behind Fake News and Click Bait

The Psychology Behind Fake News & Click Bait

Unfortunately, that’s the incentive for creating clickbait. While we’re waiting for the industry to catch up, you can lower the amount of junk news you consume by learning to spot them before you click. Read More….

How to Spot Fake News

Learn to Spot Fake News on Social Media

Before you repost an article, especially with an inflammatory, conspiratorial or emotional headline, try reading it through and checking the sources. Read More…


Additional Sources

Meyer, R. (2018, March 12). The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/largest-study-ever-fake-news-mit-twitter/555104/ 

Mitchell, A., Holcomb, J., & Barthel, M. (2018, April 26). Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/ 

Sydell, L. (2016, November 23). We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs

Shearer, E., & Matsa, K. E. (2018, September 10). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2020, from http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/

Vosoughi, S., Roy, D., & Aral, S. (2018, March 09). The spread of true and false news online. Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146 

Wbur. (2019, June 26). News Fatigue? Why More People Are Avoiding News Consumption. Retrieved from https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/06/26/news-fatigue-why-more-people-are-avoiding-news-consumption 

Why do some people avoid news? Because they don’t trust us – or because they don’t think we add value to their lives? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/06/why-do-some-people-avoid-news-because-they-dont-trust-us-or-because-they-dont-think-we-add-value-to-their-lives/


Additional Reading


Edits

03.17.20: There are no corrections at this time.

Published by Danielle

I'm a writer and artist in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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