Misinformation and COVID-19

By Grayce Mores | July 2020

For official information on the coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, please visit cdc.gov/coronavirus

An image of the coronavirus
A business closed due to COVID19
A healthcare worker in personal protective equipment

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a respiratory virus that spreads through contact with infected surfaces and people. Fake news related to this virus has spread rampantly through social media platforms, capitalizing on the existing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to spread false information. False information can spread quickly and incite panic, distrust, and chaos by playing on existing fears or biases.

Twitter has worked to remove tweets spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. These tweets encouraged dangerous practices, such as drinking bleach to prevent or cure an infection, ignoring official orders to socially distance from others, or claiming that food or medical resources would be scarce, inciting panic-buying, price gouging, and hoarding. Information that incites fear and panic can spread quickly and have a greater impact. Make sure information comes from reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control website. For more information on how to spot sketchy sources, visit our page on DIY Fake News Detection.

"Significant disinformation campaigns" have been deployed by the Russian media in an attempt to encourage panic and sow distrust. Russian media attempted to amplify the accusation that the coronavirus was a biological weapon released by the United States.

Check out the News Literacy Project's resources on misinformation related to COVID-19.

False claims related to COVID-19:

  • Telling people to ignore recommendations to socially distance themselves from others - social distancing is important to reduce the spread of the virus
  • Bleach, essential oils, hot baths, vitamin C, cannabis, or walking outside in the heat can prevent COVID-19 infection - visit the CDC website for official recommendations for infection prevention. And wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water!
  • Claims that essential resources (such as food, toilet paper, or water) are very scarce or will run out - stockpiling can leave others without these essential resources and incite panic
  • Claims that specific groups of people or nationalities are more or less susceptible to infection by COVID-19 - "diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity", according to the CDC
  • Misleading information on COVID-19 symptoms, such as "if you have a wet cough you can't have coronavirus" - visit the CDC website or consult a healthcare professional for information on signs and symptoms of coronavirus infection
  • COVID-19 is an engineered biological weapon created by the United States or China - this has been disproved
  • False text messages or alerts claiming a city will go into complete shutdown, martial law will be in effect, or that travel will be shut down - always check official government websites for this information
  • Hand sanitizer is ineffective against COVID-19 - hand sanitizer and hand washing are effective at removing COVID-19 from hands
  • Air purifiers can protect against COVID-19 infection - standard air purifiers are not designed to protect against viral infection
  • False reports on the number of people infected, dead, or in quarantine - check the CDC website or official government websites for this information
  • Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs worsen coronavirus infection - this has been denied by the World Health Organization
  • 5G towers are causing coronavirus - viruses spread through contact with infected people and surfaces