23 March 2020

The Infodemic

Going viral

We’re analysing the mountain of misinformation spreading online about coronavirus. Explore our interactive database

By Ella Hollowood and Chris Newell

Ever since the city of Wuhan in China announced it was going into lockdown two months ago, fake news about coronavirus has been spreading at breakneck speed – faster than the disease itself.

Misinformation has mutated across platforms, irrespective of geography – and it can prove difficult to get rid of.

In one UK Facebook post published at the end of February, several false claims were made about coronavirus – that it could be prevented by drinking warm water, and that it could survive on metal surfaces for 12 hours. Despite being debunked and disputed by fact-checkers, these claims have continued to show up in tweets from Nigeria, India and Cambodia – and were repurposed as a graphic, falsely claiming to be from Unicef.

As Covid-19 spread across the world, the World Health Organisation declared the situation a pandemic in early March. But it went further: it described the mass of information about the virus as a massive infodemic: “an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”

We wanted to take a closer look at the nature of inaccurate information being spread online. What are the claims being circulated? Where is it being shared? And has it been getting worse as the disease has spread?

Using Google’s Fact Check Explorer, we’ve analysed 235 examples of coronavirus misinformation reviewed by fact-checkers between 22 January and 18 March 2020.

How it works

Each circle in the interactive below represents one bit of misinformation. Grouped by theme, you can filter to see the platforms they have appeared on and the topics that keep coming up. Tap to discover the claim and the fact-checkers’ verdict.

Methodology: For practical purposes, we have selected only those facts checked in the English language. We have excluded any entries that do not meet the criteria of “mis” or “disinformation” – so no satire, opinions or claims that were found by fact-checkers to be true. Each “fact check” that appears in the database is in essence a webpage that reviews a claim made by another webpage or social media post. Google recognises these pages as a “fact check” in a Google search result. Google does not endorse or create any of these fact checks.

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