Donald Trump biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation: study
US President Donald Trump holds a face mask as he speaks during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020.
AFP/Jim Watson
Donald Trump biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation: study
Issam Ahmed (Agence France-Presse) - October 2, 2020 - 7:50am

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Donald Trump has been the world's biggest driver of Covid-19 misinformation during the pandemic, a study from Cornell University said Thursday.

A team from the Cornell Alliance for Science evaluated 38 million articles published by English-language, traditional media worldwide between January 1 and May 26 of this year.

The database they used aggregates coverage from countries such as the United States, Britain, India, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other African and Asian nations.

They identified 522,472 news articles that reproduced or amplified misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, or what the World Health Organization has called the "infodemic."

These were categorized into 11 main sub-topics, ranging from conspiracy theories to attacks on top scientist Anthony Fauci to the idea that the virus is a bioweapon unleashed by China.

But the most popular topic by far was what the study authors termed "miracle cures," which appeared in 295,351 articles — more than the other 10 topics combined.

The authors found that comments by President Trump drove major spikes in the "miracle cures" topic, led by his April 24 press briefing where he mused on the possibility of using disinfectants inside the body to cure the coronavirus.

Similar spikes were seen when he promoted unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine.

"We conclude therefore that the president of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation 'infodemic,'" the team wrote.

Sarah Evanega, who led the study and is director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, said: "If people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus."

'New world order'

Co-author Jordan Adams, a data analyst at Cision Insights that provided the database, added: "One of the more interesting aspects of the data collection process was discovering the staggering amount of misinformation coverage directly linked to the public comments of a small number of individuals."

After miracle cures, the second-most prevalent misinformation topic was that the pandemic was created to advance a "new world order."

Next came the claim that the pandemic was a hoax for political gain by the US Democratic Party, followed by conspiracies alleging the virus was a bioweapon released by a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

Conspiracy theories linking the pandemic to philanthropist Bill Gates came next, then the hoax that COVID-19 symptoms are caused by 5G phone networks, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and the notion that the virus is a form of population control.

Attacks on US government scientist Fauci, references to the debunked "Plandemic" video, and blaming the virus on Chinese people consuming bat soup rounded off the list.

The study's authors found there was some effort to correct the misinformation in the form of fact-checking articles, which appeared 183,717 times during the period studied.

They also tracked how the stories were shared on social media, finding that the posts elicited 36 million engagements, three-quarters of them on Facebook. 

The research was partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

DONALD TRUMP MISINFORMATION NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 26, 2020 - 5:37pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

November 26, 2020 - 5:37pm

Russia on Thursday registered record numbers for daily infections and deaths from the coronavirus for the second time in less than a week. 

Health officials reported 25,487 new infections, bringing the national total to 2,187,990 cases since the beginning of the pandemic — the fifth-highest caseload in the world.

Health authorities also reported 524 deaths, raising Russia's total fatalities from COVID-19 to 38,062. — AFP

November 26, 2020 - 2:14pm

South Korea reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since March on Thursday, with a surge of new infections sparking fears of a major third wave.

Officials announced 583 new cases after several weeks of fresh infections ranging between around 100 and 300.

The latest cases have mostly been clusters at offices, schools, gyms and small gatherings in the greater Seoul area, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

New infections also emerged within the military, including dozens of newly enlisted soldiers at a boot camp — prompting the defense ministry to bolster its virus measures. — AFP

November 26, 2020 - 1:29pm

South Korea reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since March on Thursday, with a surge of new infections sparking fears of a major third wave.

Officials announced 583 new cases after several weeks of fresh infections ranging between around 100 and 300.

The latest cases have mostly been clusters at offices, schools, gyms and small gatherings in the greater Seoul area, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said. — AFP

November 26, 2020 - 8:31am

The coronavirus pandemic is no excuse for not getting enough exercise, the World Health Organization says Wednesday, warning that even before the crisis many were getting too little physical activity. 

In an update of its physical activity guidelines, the UN health agency stressed that exercise was vital to physical and mental health, while sedentary behaviour can have serious repercussions.

"WHO urges everyone to continue to stay active through the Covid-19 pandemic," the agency's head of health promotion Ruediger Krech told reporters.

"If we do not remain active, we run the risk of creating another pandemic of ill-health as a result of sedentary behavior." — AFP

November 25, 2020 - 8:29pm

The coronavirus crisis has hit Italy's already historically-low birth rate, new projections from the national statistics agency reveal. 

Italy had last year already recorded its lowest number of births for 150 years, at 420,000, but this could fall to 408,000 in 2020 and 393,000 in 2021, according to Istat.

The projections were presented by Istat chief, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, to lawmakers on Tuesday.

"The climate of fear and uncertainty as well as financial difficulties... caused by recent events will have a negative effect on the fertility of Italian couples," he said. — AFP

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