As the virus continues to sweep across the world, we have put together essential resources for those interested in tackling the coronavirus infodemic. On this page, you can find information on what the online platforms are doing to combat coronavirus mis— and disinformation. You can find content on the narratives, trends, and strategies defining the infodemic, whether that’s via our weekly Disinfo Updates or research. Moreover, we have dedicated sections on free tools to use, commentary on the infodemic, as well as its impact on our societies.
Please reach out to us via the button below in case you think there’s something we should feature.
- Two recent publications from EU DisinfoLab discuss disinforming content related to the coronavirus, one about misogynistic disinformation during the pandemic and another about conspiracy theories and Covid-19 denialism on the crowdfunding platform Patreon.
- In our recent newsletter, we look at platforms’ moderation responses to “Hold-Up”, a French language conspiratorial documentary about Covid-19.
- We contributed to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission research report, Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation While Respecting Freedom of Expression.
- Our blog post from September 28 compares how 11 global internet communications companies are responding to the ‘infodemic’ through 7 forms of content and account moderation.
- COVID-19 conspiracy theories: comparative trends in Italy, France, and Spain: In this blogpost, we shed light on the emergence of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and take a look at the trends in Italy, France, and Spain.
- Our Managing Director, Gary Machado, recently shared a few words on the need to be cautious with attribution in the context of foreign interference and COVID-19 disinformation.
- Covid-19 Disinformation: narratives, trends and strategies in Europe: Based on our monitoring of independently fact-checked disinformation from France, Italy, and Spain, we have been able to draw trends from the content, such as the strategies and platforms used to disinform.
- Platforms’ responses to Covid-19 Mis- and Disinformation: We analysed the blogposts, statements, and updates in policies from the platforms to combine a comprehensive overview of the measures undertaken.
- Combating the disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 – We have contributed to two UNESCO policy briefs that offer critical insights into the fast-growing COVID-19-related disinformation that is impeding access to trustworthy sources and reliable information.
- Our latest newsletters focus on the biggest takeaways and news on the infodemic.
Online platforms' responses to the infodemic
- Platforms’ responses to Covid-19 Mis– and Disinformation: We analysed the blog posts, statements, and updates in policies from the platforms to combine a comprehensive overview of the measures undertaken.
- Public Knowledge’s Tracking Report on Digital Platform Responses to Misinformation During the Pandemic
- Mozilla Foundation on COVID-19 & Twitter: Here’s What’s Being Done to Limit Misinformation
- Institute for Strategic Dialogue recently released a report reviewing the three major online platforms’ (Facebook, Twitter, and Google) policies to stem the infodemic and their enforcement during the first 100 days.
- Dr. Joan Donovan on how social media must flatten the curve of misinformation.
- Avaaz’s report on How Facebook can Flatten the Curve of the Coronavirus Infodemic.
- According to TechCrunch, WhatsApp’s new limit cuts virality of ‘highly forwarded’ messages by 70%.
- In a new blog post, WITNESS has given an overview of the platforms’ responses to COVID-19 mis/disinformation and analysed their effectiveness through the prism of human rights considerations.
- Center for Countering Digital Hate’s report – How social media giants have failed to live up to their claims on the Coronavirus ‘infodemic’.
- An article by Statnews looks at how Pinterest responded to vaccine misinformation and lessons for Facebook.
- Robyn Caplan explains how COVID-19 misinformation is a crisis of content mediation.
- From the New America Open Technology Institute, how platforms are dealiing with Covid-19 related dis- and misinformation.
- This Witness blog post overviews key trends in platform responses to mis- and disinformation and harmful speech during Covid-19.
- YouTube and Facebook have both taken actions on Covid-19 vaccine-related misinformation.
- Instagram will temporarily remove the ‘recent’ tab from hashtag pages to reduce the spread of potential misinformation.
- In November, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter announced plans to join forces together with fact-checkers, governments and researchers to address vaccine conspiracy theories.
- In December, Facebook announced it would be removing all false claims about Covid vaccines. TikTok is also strengthening its policies related to vaccine misinformation and promoting authoritative content. Twitter will prioritize the removal of the “most harmful and misleading” vaccine misinformation while labeling potentially misleading info.
- Also in December, following research from the Marshall Fund, Facebook removed several large pages associated with a coordinated network of websites pushing health misinformation around natural cures and vaccines.
Friction!!! Charting the trend of slowing the velocity of content
In October, as many states entered the second wave of the Coronavirus and a parallel surge in health related misinformation, the UN urged people to pause before sharing information online with the hashtag #PledgetoPause. For their part, platforms have been experimenting more and more with “speedbump”, “friction“, or “circuit breaker” features. This technique slows the spread of content and allows for newly viral content to be temporarily stopped from spreading while it is fact-checked. Evelyn Douek has called this “the next frontier now that we’re wandering around outside the take-down/leave-up binary of content moderation.”
- Facebook piloted a so-called ‘circuit-breaker‘ back in August, which helped reduce the spread of the Plandemic Sequel denialist video.
- Twitter temporarily added a step for retweets, nudging users to add a comment before amplifying that content, though it later removed rolled back this experiment.
- Twitter has also developed a feature, not yet public, that would display a “misleading information” label when a user tries to “Like” a tweet that has been labeled as misinformation.
- The US elections motivated other platforms to take similar measures, and suggest that friction – long considered a ‘bug’ to be overcome in favor of seemless, infinite reach – just might become a feature.
- Twitter and Facebook both added friction to sharing in the week before the US elections that will slow the spread of Covid-related misinformation. For Covid-related memes and videos, Facebook will show you the date the content first appeared, so you can reconsider whether you still want to pass it along.
ACCOUNTABILITY: How effectively are platforms enforcing their new principles, policies and terms of service?
- Our latest research into the moderation of 5G and Covid-19 conspiracy theories on Twitter and YouTube shows that, while content moderation efforts are continually improving and scaling up, they still remain insufficient and sometimes excessively slow.
- We have also examined the loopholes in the enforcement of Facebook policies, locating a discrepancy in consistent enforcement. We especially point to the fact that labelling of fact-checked disinformation on hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) can easily be overturned and lead to similar stories circulating without any labelling or context.
- September 2020, Avaaz reporting shows how loopholes in Facebook’s content moderation of labeled misinformation, which allows debunked messages to continue circulating on the platform after minor tweeks.
- Popular Information reports in October that Amazon has paid more than $40,000 to one of the leading sources of vaccine misinformation in the United States.
- Antivaccine videos have managed to slip through YouTube’s advertising policies.
- In November, Buzzfeed revealed how Facebook continues to profit from ads placed by the far-right organization Azov despite having banned the movement from the platform over a year ago.
Public authorities tackling the infodemic
- World Health Organisation training in infodemic management November 2020
- World Health Organisation’s Mythbuster
- European Parliament “Covid-19 myths” page
- On its “Coronavirus response” page, the European Commission has added a “Fighting disinformation” section.
- UK government launches WhatsApp coronavirus chatbot in an attempt to ease pressure off the NHS 111 phone service.
- Italian public broadcasting launch “Fake News” task force
- Finland has set up a partnership with social media influencers to share official information on the epidemic
- The Polish Press Agency (PAP) and GovTech Polska have launched an app to fight COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation.
- Misinformation in the COVID-19 Infodemic – This report by the UK Parliament Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee looks into the trends in COVID-19 misinformation alongside the online platforms and UK public authorities’ actions against the Infodemic.
- The UK anti-fake news unit dealing with false coronavirus articles.
Fact-checking & Journalism
- IFCN’s #CoronaVirusFacts initiative: 91 fact-checkers in 40 countries.
- AFP news agency fact-checking team maintains a list of debunked stories about Covid-19 in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
- Snopes Coronavirus Collection: Fact-checking COVID-19
- First Draft’s database of Coronavirus fact-checks and debunks: Currently over 800 entries by over 70 organisations in over 20 languages Content sourced from Google’s Fact Check Explorer and Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).
- Infotagion: COVID-19, a fact-checking service to tackle the wave of disinformation arising about the coronavirus.
- BBC News Africa has launched a searchable library of fact-checks debunking popular myths and misinformation about coronavirus in Africa.
- Poynter has launched a WhatsApp bot that will allow people across the globe to debunk over 4,000 hoaxes surrounding the pandemic.
Resources for journalists
- CoronaCheck, a computational verification tool for coronavirus statistical claims, is a joint effort from the teams of Prof. Papotti at EURECOM and of Prof. Trummer at Cornell University. (available in English, Italian, French, and German).
- WikiProject Medicine: This project brings together accurate information on health science. The editorial team accepts only citations of peer-reviewed papers, textbooks or reports from prominent medical centers and institutes.
- We Verify on Covid-19: Speeding Up The Debunking Process.
- Ethical Journalism Network “Ethical reporting in times of Covid”
- Poynter’s COVID-19 Resources, including tools for fact-checking and tips for journalists.
- First Draft’s repository of webinars for journalists covering the Coronavirus crisis.
- The International Center for Journalists has created a Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum to connect journalists with some of the world’s top health practitioners, newsroom leaders and other experts, who can answer questions in live video chats.
- In Europe, independent fact-checkers have come together to detail the themes, narrative, and trends that have defined the infodemic in an extensive report.
- There’s a special COVID-19 thematic focus in Full Fact’s report on tackling the causes and effects of bad information.
- European Journalism Observatory – How media worldwide are covering the coronavirus crisis
- Leveraging volunteer fact-checking to identify misinformation about COVID-19 in social media – This study advocates for a strategy to detect emerging health misinformation online by tracking replies that seem to provide accurate information.
- The European Journalism Centre and the Facebook Journalism Project have launched a $3 million USD fund to support hundreds of community, local and regional European news organisations.
- Google has launched a Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.
- The Rory Peck Trust in the UK is supporting freelance journalists through this crisis.
COVID-19 disinformation narratives and trends
- EUvsDisinfo Coronavirus Hub
- Oxford Internet Institute COVID-19 hub
- The Institute for Strategic Dialogue Covid-19 Disinformation Briefing 1, Briefing 2 and Briefing 3
- Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project – weekly briefing on the spread of COVID-19 misinformation on online platforms.
- In a factsheet, Reuters Institute for Journalism identified some of the main types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation seen so far. In addition, a recording of a webinar based on this very fact sheet can be found here.
- BBC News has released a short piece reflecting on the most viral rumours that were spread at the beginning of the pandemic.
COVID-19 disinformation actors and amplifiers
- In a new article, the BBC attempts to classify the different actors who start and spread viral COVID-19 misinformation. Actors range from the “joker,” and “politician,” to the “scammer”.
- Getting to the Source of Infodemics: It’s the Business Model – This new Ranking Digital Rights report argues that the business model of online platforms and the opaque algorithms that support them are the root cause of the platforms’ failure to stem the flow of COVID-19 mis/disinformation.
- Public Knowledge – The Pandemic Proves We Need A “Superfund” to Clean Up Misinformation on the Internet
- Likely falling victim to the conspiracies themselves, prominent celebrities have been sharing theories about the apparent links between 5G and the coronavirus
- Newsguard’s Tracking Facebook’s COVID-19 Misinformation ‘Super-spreaders’ in Europe. A concise write up can be found here.
- Newsguard’s Tracking Twitter’s European COVID-19 misinformation ‘Super-spreaders’.
- CORRECTIV’s analysis (in German) on COVID-19 disinformation in Germany. Authors found that out of 1,800 fact-checked examples, 46% could be traced back to YouTube videos.
- YouTube as a source of information on COVID-19: a pandemic of misinformation? A new study has found that over one-quarter of the most viewed YouTube COVID-19 themed videos contained misleading information. BBC News has summarised it for us.
- Newsy and Bellingcat on the “Coronavirus Disinformation System”
- In a new blog-post, DFRLab explores why the debunked COVID-19 conspiracy video “Plandemic” won’t go away, citing the significance of high-follower QAnon accounts and alt-tech platforms in sustaining the prevalence of the video.
- Pandemic Populism: Facebook Pages of Alternative News Media and the Corona Crisis — A Computational Content Analysis
- Through looking at tweets related to COVID-19, views into public Facebook interactions, and other data, Kate Starbird’s new blog post details how social media and hyper-partisan online news media play complementary roles in the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
- Carnegie Mellon University researchers have discovered that almost half of the Twitter accounts discussing ‘Reopening America’ may be bots. Since January, CMU researchers have collected more than 200 million COVID-19 tweets. They found that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% are bots.
- CoMuNe Lab’s Infodemics Observatory has analysed approximately 100M public messages to understand the digital response in online social media to the COVID-19 outbreak. Using machine learning, researchers have quantified collective sentiment & psychology, social bot pollution, and news reliability.
- How search engines disseminate information about COVID-19 and why they should do better – This study finds that search results starkly differ across engines and are characterised by randomisation, which “can be detrimental when society urgently needs to access consistent and accurate information”.
- Bellingcat has described how coronavirus disinformation gets past social media moderators. In this context, disinformation actors bypass policies using a range of strategies, such as forming new conspiracies based on misinterpreted real information, referring implicitly to factual information, using speech marks to cite hoaxes, and by recontextualising real information to support conspiratorial narratives.
- Global Disinformation Index recently released a report titled “Ad-funded COVID-19 Disinformation: Money, Tech & Brands,” which provides evidence of the ad funding of coronavirus conspiracy theories. According to GDI’s conservative estimates, based on 500 English-speaking coronavirus disinformation sites, $25 million will be generated from ad revenue in 2020.
- From alternative doctors to wellness coaches, Tortoise Media has detailed the infodemic superspreaders, examining (amongst other things) how they have helped amplify Facebook posts containing COVID-19 dis– and misinformation.
- From Bellingcat – How Coronavirus Scammers Hide On Facebook And YouTube
- Coda Story has an exclusive on new research detailing how a series of Twitter hashtags have pushed Islamophobic disinformation to 170 million users since the outbreak of the pandemic.
- Centre for Countering Digital Hate’s investigation on how the British far-right are blaming Muslims for the coronavirus.
- In a co-investigation by BBC Click and the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, authors indicate how both extremist political and fringe medical communities have tried to exploit the pandemic online.
- Given the abundance of COVID-19 conspiracies, Hope not Hate seeks to understand the drivers of conspiracy theory belief in its new report.
- Coronavirus is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories – here’s why that’s a serious problem
- Utilising a digital ethnographic approach, Shorenstein Center has released a study analysing the COVID-19 disinformation narratives and conspiracies circulating within Black communities.
- The Citizen Lab study on Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media.
- Oxford Internet Institute has examined COVID-19 news and information from state-backed media outlets targeting French, German, and Spanish speaking social media users.
- Surveying 1,700 Americans online, a fresh study has found that people share COVID-19 related false information simply because they fail to sufficiently think about whether the content itself is accurate. You can find a concise summary of the study here.
- ABC News’ reportage on Tracking hydroxychloroquine misinformation: How an unproven COVID-19 treatment ended up being endorsed by Trump
- With the help of Nick Waters from Bellingcat, a new Daily Beast report debunks the military contractor’s report cited by US administration officials as evidence of an accident at a Chinese laboratory linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- According to an Open Democracy exposé, a controversial Armenian health news website funded by US taxpayers is spreading harmful COVID-19 misinformation, including claims that vaccines currently being developed are actually “biological weapons”.
- Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review – Using Misinformation as a political weapon: COVID-19 and Bolsonaro in Brazil.
- Online Temptations: COVID-19 and Religious Misinformation in the MENA Region – This study looks at how the phenomenon of religious misinformation is a defining characteristic of the MENA’s online sphere, becoming even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A BBC investigation has found that hundreds of fake or hijacked social media accounts have been pushing pro-Chinese government messages about the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Following Twitter’s removal of almost 24,000 accounts linked to China, Stanford Internet Observatory has analysed the content covered by these accounts, finding that the main topics were the Hong Kong protests; COVID-19; exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and Taiwan.
- Graphika’s Iran’s IUVM Turns To Coronavirus and The COVID-19 “Infodemic”
- Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s COVID-19 Disinformation & Social Media Manipulation
- ProPublica – “How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let It Loose on Coronavirus”
Safeguarding democracy and fundamental rights
- Statement by the monitors for freedom of expression and freedom of the media for the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
- Human Rights Watch on the Human Rights dimensions of Covid-19 responses
- Council of Europe statement on preserving freedom of expression in times of crisis
- Сoronavirus response should not impede the work of the media in Russia, says OSCE Media Freedom Representative
- Privacy International’s Tracking the Global Response to COVID-19, which looks at measures that have imposed restrictions on people’s freedoms, including to their privacy and other human rights.
- Democracy Decay’s COVID-DEM Infohub compiles research, webinars, podcasts, and data, which helps analysts understand how state responses to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are impacting on democratic governance.
- UN Secretary General’s message on COVID-19 and misinformation.
- Media Legal Defence Initiative on how a COVID-19 state of emergency is not an excuse for government repression
- Developed against a backdrop of rapidly accelerating state action on COVID-19 related disinformation, the Disinformation Tracker details and analyses all laws, policies and other government actions on disinformation across Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Article19’s Briefing on Coronavirus
- Reporters Without Borders’ Tracker-19 focuses on the coronavirus and how the pandemic has been used by governments to censor the press.
- Access Now has laid down the ways in which states could fight misinformation while defending freedom of speech during the COVID-19 infodemic.
- EDRi’s Document Pool on COVID-19 and digital rights & COVID infodemic and the lure of censorship
- The International Press Institute has launched a tracker on press freedom violations linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Fighting the ‘Infodemic’: Legal Responses to COVID-19 Disinformation – This study looks into the various legal responses taken by public authorities to stem the flow of COVID-19 disinformation, providing a timely discussion of intended and unintended consequences of such legal responses to the “infodemic,” and reflecting on a basic set of safeguards needed to preserve trust in online information.
Empowering internet users
- Web Foundation “3 steps you can take to help fight viral covid19 disinfo”
- Digger Deepfake Detection has shed some light on how to deal with coronavirus disinformation online.
Access to credible information
- Combating the disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 – We have contributed to two UNESCO policy briefs that offer critical insights into the fast-growing COVID-19-related disinformation that is impeding access to trustworthy sources and reliable information.
- NewsGuard’s Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center: Attempts to list news and information sites in the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy and Germany that are identified as publishing materially false information about the Coronavirus, as well as sites with unvetted, poorly sourced stories that have turned out to be false.
- For The Atlantic, Renee DiResta argues that health experts do not understand how information moves online, which prevents them from effectively filling COVID-19 knowledge gaps and instead feeds into the popularity of unreliable (often misinformative) sources.
- According to commentators for Slate, the battle faced by authoritative sources to provide accurate information on COVID-19 is complexified by the fast-changing landscape of scientific findings, facts, and uncertainties. This makes accuracy hard to attain due to the novelty of the virus.
- Google and the Cost of ‘Data Voids’ during a Pandemic: This piece explores the impact of data voids — a lack of relevant information for search terms — which can increase users’ chances of exposure to mis/disinformation.
Tools free to use
- First Draft’s collection on tools and resources.
- Open Facto’s Covid-19 OSINT Dashboard.
- Conspiracy Watch’s global map of conspiracies.
- As a resource during the pandemic, all Journal of Democracy content is free on Project Muse for the time being.
- The News Literacy Project (NLP) has free tools and resources for the public, including a customized version of its signature e-learning platform, Checkology.
- Also from NLP, the Coronavirus Tech Handbook is a crowdsourced library of tools, services and resources relating to COVID-19 response. It is a rapidly evolving resource with thousands of expert contributors.
- Mozilla Fellow Emmi Bevensee has co-launched the Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT), an open-source tool for analyzing disinformation.
Impact of the Infodemic
Public opinion and COVID-19 disinformation, conspiracies, and false cures
- A Le Monde article highlights how 26% of French people polled by IFOP survey for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and Conspiracy Watch believe that SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current pandemic, was created by man.
- Pew Research has reported on how nearly 3 in 10 Americans believe COVID-19 was made in a lab. Similarly, a poll jointly conducted by The Economist and YouGov showed that, in their sample of 1500 Americans, 49% believe that the coronavirus is “probably” or “definitely” a man-made epidemic.
- According to research seen exclusively by The Independent, Almost half of the British population believes that coronavirus is a “man-made creation”.
- Institut français d’opinion publique conducted a public poll with French people and found that 59% of the sample believe that chloroquine is an effective treatment for Covid-19.
- According to a poll conducted by Essential Research with Australians, one-fifth of all 18 to 34-year olds said they had some belief that Bill Gates was involved in the creation and spread of coronavirus, with the same number responding positive to the question: “The 5G wireless network is being used to spread the COVID-19 virus”.
- UK’s Ofcom has looked into the COVID-19 news consumption patterns and attitudes of British society towards COVID-19 information.
- A new study has shown that, in the UK, false information is less of a problem than confusing government messages.
The human cost of the Infodemic
- Mobile phone masts around the UK were vandalised due to the growing 5G conspiracies surrounding the pandemic.
- The UK government will meet with the online platforms in an effort to minimise 5G conspiracies.
- European trade unions and telecom lobby groups ETNO and GSMA have called on policymakers to protect employees from attacks spurred on by rampant misinformation around 5G technology.
- A recent BBC piece explores the human cost of COVID-19 misinformation, ranging from poisoning, arson and attacks, to stoking racial tensions.
- Concentrating on the offline effects of the infodemic, BBC News has reflected on the human cost of mis/disinformation in India.
- In February, Covid-19 disinformation caused riots and unrest in a small town called Novi Sanzhary situated in Ukraine.
- The circulation of coronavirus rumours among inmates in a Thai prison recently led to riots.
- In late March, a man from the US died after ingesting chloroquine in an attempt to prevent himself from contracting Covid-19. Additionally, three Nigerians overdosed on chloroquine in the wake of Donald Trump’s tweets, according to CNN.
- Politico has reported on the effects of the infodemic on fact-checkers around the world.
- BBC News has produced a short video reportage titled “Coronavirus in Nigeria: Inside a Lagos coronavirus ward,” looking into how people across Nigeria believe the pandemic is a hoax but the hospitals in Lagos tell a different story.
- COVID-19 related Infodemic and its Impact on Public Health: A Global Social Media Analysis – This study claims that at least 800 people may have died worldwide because of COVID-19 misinformation in the first three months of 2020. Looking for a quick summary? CNN has it. As another perspective, Full Fact has shed light on the 800 deaths claim.
Public trust in healthcare professionals
- Data and Society – Who Benefits from Health Misinformation?
- According to the BBC, COVID-19 disinformation is affecting patients’ trust in doctors and nurses.
- Buzzfeed’s feature on a nurse who has spoken against the coronavirus conspiracies that are putting his colleagues and himself in danger.
- In collaboration with health practitioners from around the world, Avaaz has launched an open letter highlighting the real-life consequences of the COVID-19 infodemic for health practitioners, while advocating for greater action from the online platforms to curb the spread of mis/disinformation.
- A recent New York Times article reports on the enormous battle faced by medical professionals to counter the damage caused by false information on COVID-19, ranging from people refusing treatment to doctors experiencing abuse by patients.