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Full Fact report tracks fake Covid-19 news across five countries

Posted on: July 1, 2020 by Ian Murray

UK independent fact checking body Full Fact has produced a report into misinformation concerning the Covid-19 virus.

The report was produced in collaboration with four other fact checking organisations – from Spain, Italy, France and Germany.

The report reveals how common incidents of fake news spread between countries as the pandemic increased. Fake news included misinformation on vaccines, cures and ways to avoid catching the virus.

The report, funded by the Rowntree Foundation, found that the belief that Covid-19 was caused or made worse or spread by 5G mobile phone technology was common in all five countries.

Belief that the virus was man-made or created as a biological weapon was also present.

The report looked at articles published by the five fact checkers over the months of March and April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic spread across Europe and large-scale public health measures were imposed. 

In total 645 articles relating to Covid-19 were published by the five organisations. 

“As the five different countries experienced their outbreaks at roughly the same time, information in one country would often track what was happening in another,” states the report.

“Particularly notable was that during the month of March, as Italy experienced the peak of its outbreak ahead of the other countries, false and unverified information about what was happening in Italy was common across Germany, the UK, Spain and France. 

“And a final common issue across all five countries was the false belief that Muslim communities in each country were somehow receiving preferential treatment or were not being held to public health rules. 

“Some themes that were especially common in one country were notable by the fact that they were either entirely absent or far less common in all other countries. The UK had a large amount of unverified claims about pets and how the outbreak was affecting them. Germany saw several claims about migrants, including that they were secretly being allowed into the country under the cover of lockdown. Claims of chemically-impregnated masks being used by robbers to incapacitate their victims were seen in Spain and Germany, but not widely shared elsewhere. And Spain saw a large number of scams and hoaxes related to technology.”

False rumours and conspiracy theories around the issue of vaccines have been another major topic seen in all five countries. 

“This has included false claims that early vaccine trial volunteers have died (claims about the same woman were seen in the UK, Spain, and Italy), untrue claims of vaccines being ready or imminent (as seen in France, Italy, Spain and the UK), and existing vaccines for animal coronaviruses being wrongly identified. 

“False claims about mandatory or enforced vaccination were seen in Germany (these claims about ‘new’ German laws also appeared in the UK outside the time of this report) and in Spain, and misattributed claims of civil unrest in South Africa around vaccines were seen in France.”

The report found that the belief that Covid-19 is caused or made worse, or helped to spread by 5G phone technology was common across all five countries, although it was especially common in Italy and the UK. 

“Perhaps the most consistent topic of misinformation was misleading medical advice around supposed cures or remedies for Covid-19. 

“Related to, but distinct from, medical advice around cures and remedies for people who may have been infected, is medical advice on how to avoid infection in the first place. These often took the form of lengthy lists of advice that blended accurate or partially accurate information with unsound medical advice – very similar lists were seen in Spain and France, while another different list appeared in the UK. 

“One common theme among many of these was that warm temperatures would kill the virus, as also seen in Germany and Italy. This advice was often falsely attributed to some authority, for example Johns Hopkins University, Unicef, or simply medical professionals.”