Faisal Al Mutar was at his home in New York City when he saw the first hints of what would become a tidal wave of Arabic-language coronavirus conspiracy content spreading online.
It was mid-February and while the virus was starting to appear in Iran, there was yet to be a serious outbreak in an Arab country — the rampant misinformation had arrived in the Arab world before the virus.
Al Mutar, 28, watched videos suggesting the pandemic was part of a biological war between the United States and China. Homespun articles claimed that eating garlic was enough to ward off the virus. Religious authorities argued the disease was a punishment for China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims.
“The most dangerous misinformation I saw is the claim that because we are Muslims, the virus is not going to affect us,” he said.