Join us this Thursday 9th April at 16:00 CEST for a webinar where we will present our latest investigation: Africa24: How an Africa-based network built fake media and clickbait health scams for profit.
During this session, we will delve deeper into how the network uses classic disinformation techniques and finances itself through syndicating RT and Sputnik content and spreading health misinformation. In view of this, the network has increasingly utilised the coronavirus pandemic to its advantage by propagating coronavirus misinformation for clickbait purposes.
Covid-19 disinformation in Europe
Last week, we released our blogpost on Covid-19 disinformation detailing the narratives, strategies, and platforms used to disinform. Among the narratives observed, we were able to extract overarching trends for Italy, France, and Spain, which included health fears; conspiracy theories; lockdown fears; false cures, and identity, societal and political polarisation.
Moreover, there were four strategies to disinform that reappeared in our monitoring of the disinformation present in the European countries:
- The impersonation of authoritative figures to confer credibility and legitimacy to the disinformation.
- The use of WhatsApp in all three countries to accelerate the spread of inaccurate information.
- The mass use of decontexualised images and videos to sow panic and confer credibility to the disinformation.
- The significance of anonymous channels on Telegram that shared information linked to the COVID-19, which was then repropagated on mainstream platforms. N.b. Telegram recently announced it will inform users about verified official channels.
In addition to our blogpost, we have also updated our Coronavirus Resource Hub with brand new content, including fact-checking, research, initiatives, and commentary on the infodemic. Please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in case there’s something you think we should feature.
When disinformation influences the offline
While 5G conspiracies have been brewing for quite some time, the onset of the Covid-19 infodemic has taken them to a whole new level. Fact-checkers have debunked a variety of hoaxes, ranging from the idea that 5G has accelerated the spread of coronavirus to the claim that 5G alters people’s DNA, making them more susceptible to contracting Covid-19. In addition, Buzzfeed has reported on how 5G conspiracies are gaining traction among QAnon supporters and right-wing media personalities, even noting that certain celebrities are throwing support behind these theories. What’s alarming is that 5G conspiracies have had offline effects with the recent arson of mobile phone masts around the UK. As a consequence of this, the UK government will now hold meetings with online platforms to discuss how the platforms can minimise this kind of disinformation.
Policies in practice
Last week, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube removed posts shared by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for including coronavirus misinformation, which were in violation of the online platforms’ new policies on harmful Covid-19 content. For the most part, the responses from platforms have been met with praise, however, Axios has rightly noted how Twitter has unevenly applied its policy. Interestingly, The New York Times pondered on whether such policies could be applied to an electoral context, but this “should not and cannot be applied to politics” because “the pandemic has generated a strong consensus in favour of limiting harmful content,” whereas positions on moderating political speech are less than uniform.
- Who benefits from health misinformation? In short, it’s both a question of who benefits now and who profits later. Data and Society highlights that “a larger destabilisation of health and scientific institutions is at work” with Covid-19 and other health misinformation, which is paving the way for an “oppressive power to take advantage of a fragmented society”.
- 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.
- The Kremlin is using the Covid-19 crisis and its role in Italy to undermine NATO and the EU, writes Coda Story. More specifically, via broadcasts and articles, Russian state-owned media is both amplifying the gratitude felt by Italians over Russia’s humanitarian aid and underlining anti-EU and NATO sentiments held by Italians.
- Global Disinformation Index has called attention to how Google is allowing ads on websites that push false cures for Covid-19, such as colloidal silver. According to GDI, recent research had found that Google provided ad services on 86% of the more than 50 coronavirus conspiracy sites GDI assessed.
Events and Announcements
- 7 April, 09:30 ET @ CEPA Virtual Event – Russia’s COVID-19 Moment.
- 8 April, 15:00 CEST @ DFRLab and GLOBSEC – COVID-19 Pandemic and Infodemic: A threat to democracy as we know it?
- First Draft has launched an online course designed for journalists covering coronavirus.