‘Infodemics’ are outbreaks of false information including rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories. All of these have been common during the COVID-19 pandemic. The detection, assessment, and response to rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in real time are a challenge.
An international team of researchers followed and examined COVID-19-related rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories circulating on online platforms, including fact-checking agency websites, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers, and their impacts on public health. Information was extracted between December 31, 2019 and April 5, 2020, and descriptively analysed. The team performed a content analysis of the news articles to compare and contrast data collected from other sources.
The researchers identified 2,311 reports of rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in 25 languages from 87 countries. Claims were related to:
- illness, transmission and mortality (24%),
- control measures (21%),
- treatment and cure (19%),
- cause of disease including the origin (15%),
- violence (1%),
- and miscellaneous (20%).
Of the 2,276 reports for which text ratings were available, 1,856 claims were false (82%).
The authors concluded that misinformation fuelled by rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories can have potentially serious implications on the individual and community if prioritized over evidence-based guidelines. Health agencies must track misinformation associated with the COVID-19 in real time, and engage local communities and government stakeholders to debunk misinformation.
These findings are as perplexing as they are frightening. On this blog, we have since the beginning of the pandemic focussed on the SCAM for COVID-19. We have seen that this health crisis provided an occasion for almost any quackery on the planet:
- supplement salesmen,
- essential oil salesmen.
They all crept out of the woodwork. Their methods may differ, but their aim seems to be the same: to make a fast buck regardless of how many people their activities might kill.