Commetric‘s research into the spread of false narratives around the coronavirus was quoted in The Guardian article “NHS announces plan to combat coronavirus fake news“.
As the threat of the coronavirus has been growing, the World Health Organization (WHO), the health arm of the United Nations, declared the illness a global health emergency. But as the misinformation, rumours and conspiracies began to spread faster than the virus, the agency declared a “massive infodemic“, citing an over-abundance of information that “makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
In order to examine the proliferation of conspiracy theories online, we conducted a media analysis of the most common false narratives around the coronavirus as propagated by the emerging ecosystem of alternative media websites.
To assess the penetration degree of these narratives, we also analysed a sample of several major English-language tabloid outlets, which regularly publish sensationalist content. Altogether, our sample consisted of 1,744 articles published in alternative media and tabloid outlets.
We found that the most widely circulated conspiracy claims were pushed by publications like Before It’s News, Zero Hedge and The Washington Times, which suggested that the coronavirus was a biological weapon for population control. Such outlets used numerous Twitter handles to create echo-chambers, fueled by vaccination sceptics and prominent anti-vaccination campaigners like Jordan Sather.
In order to examine the spread of conspiracy theories on Twitter, we analysed 252,164 English-language tweets posted in the period 08 Feb-13 Feb in the US. We found that the most often referenced fake news publication was newspaper The Epoch Times, known for being the second-largest funder of pro-Trump Facebook advertising.