A recent study conducted by the Cornell University and published in The New York Times NYT -0.8% examined misinformation, falsehoods and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 circulating in the media. The researchers analyzed 38 million articles published in the English language between January 01 and May 26, finding that 1.1 million contained misinformation, representing just under 3% of the overall Covid-19 conversation. Notably, the study found that President Trump was mentioned in nearly 38% of the total misinformation conservation, making him the largest driver of the Covid-19 infodemic (pandemic falsehoods).
The spurious pieces were broken down into different categories with misinformation/conspiracies accounting for 46% of the total. 11 different conspiracies were identified ranging from allegations Covid-19 was developed in a lab in Wuhan as a bioweapon to mentions of the deep state and “a new world order” as well as references that Covid-19 was developed as an intentional population control scheme. Conspiracies connecting Bill Gates to the pandemic were also identified while falsehoods surrounding U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci started appearing in April. Conspiracy theorists accused him of exaggerating deaths and of being an accessory to the pharmaceutical industry.
Miracle cures were by far the most prevalent conspiracy and the central point of multiple converging themes of misinformation. They most notably include President Trump’s advocation for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as treatments/cures for Covid-19, though no peer-reviewed data found they had any efficacy in treating people suffering from the disease. Likewise, when Trump claimed that ultraviolet light and disinfectants might be used to treat Covid-19, the number of articles in the “miracle cures” disinformation category grew from 10,000 to more than 30,000 just a day later, an increase in falsehoods the researchers directly attributed to the president.