Who spreads “fake news”?

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Media captionWho starts viral disinformation … and who spreads it?

Conspiracy theories, misinformation and assumptions about the coronavirus have inundated social media. But who begins these rumors? And who distributes them?

We have investigated many misleading stories throughout the pandemic. This has given us a concept about who is behind the disinformation – and what drives them. Here are seven varieties of people who start out and expose lies:



You are hoping that no one has been deceived by a voice notice from WhatsApp that the federal government is preparing a huge lasagna at Wembley Stadium to feed Londoners. But some people did not understand the joke.

To take a barely more critical instance, a prankster created a screenshot of textual content from bogus authorities who claimed that the recipient had been fined for leaving too many instances. He thought it would be funny to scare people who break the lock guidelines.

After encouraging his followers to share it on Instagram, he discovered his option for native Facebook teams, the place where he had been posted by worried residents, some of whom took it significantly.

“I don’t really want to cause panic,” explains the joker, who wouldn’t give us his title. “But if they believe a screenshot on social media, they really need to somehow reassess the way they consume information on the Internet. “



Other false texts claiming to come from the federal government or from native councils were generated by scammers trying to generate income from the pandemic.

One of these scams looked at by the fact-checking charity Full Fact in March said the federal government was providing assistance funds to individuals and asked for details about financial institutions.

Photos of the scammed text content were shared on Facebook. Since he circulated by text, it is difficult to find out who was behind them.

The scammers started using false information about the virus to generate income as early as February, with emails suggesting that people could “click for a coronavirus cure review” or suggesting that they were entitled to a refund for tax due to the epidemic.



Misinformation doesn’t just come from the dark corners of the web.

Last week, President Donald Trump wondered if exposing our bodies to mild UV or bleach could help fight coronavirus. He speculated and took the information out of context.

He then claimed that the comments were sarcastic. But that did not stop people from calling hotlines to ask them to treat themselves with a disinfectant.

It’s not just the President. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry promoted the idea that Covid-19 could have been brought to Wuhan by the United States military. Conspiracy theories about the epidemic were mentioned in prime time on Russian state television and on pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts.

  • Trump’s claims about disinfectant and sunlight verified
  • False statements by disproved politicians


All the uncertainty about the virus has created an ideal breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

A false story of troubled origins claiming that the main volunteer to participate in a UK vaccine trial had died circulated in huge Facebook anti-vaccination and conspiracy teams. It was fiction.

David Icke’s YouTube interviews, which have since been deleted, have also peddled false claims that 5G is linked to the coronavirus. Mr. Icke also appeared on a London television station, which was discovered to have violated the broadcasting requirements of the United Kingdom. Its Facebook web page was later removed, the company said, for posting “false health information that could cause physical harm”.

Conspiracy theories have led to numerous attacks on 5G masts.



Sometimes disinformation seems to come from a reliable supply – a doctor, a professor, or a hospital employee.

But typically, “the initiate” is nothing like that.

A lady in Crawley, West Sussex, was the source of a panic warning predicting catastrophic – and baseless – death toll for younger, healthy coronavirus victims. She claimed to have inside information through her work in an ambulance service.

  • Voicemail message from “incorrect” ambulance worker virus

She did not respond to requests for comment or proof of her work, so we do not know if she is truly a welfare worker. But we know that the claims contained in his voice advice are unfounded.



This alarming voice and many others went viral as a result of their apprehensions, who then shared the messages with family and friends.

It’s Danielle Baker, an Essex mom of 4, who posted on Facebook Messenger “just in case it was true”.

“At first I was a little tired because it was sent by a lady I didn’t know,” she says. “I passed it on because I and my sister have babies the same age and also older children, and we all have a high risk in our households.”

They try to be helpful, so they assume they are doing something constructive. But, in fact, it doesn’t make the messages they convey true.

  • How bad information goes viral
  • Jeff Bezos didn’t say that about the coronavirus


It’s not just your mom or uncle. Celebrities have contributed to the spread of amplified misleading allegations.

The singer M.I.A. and actor Woody Harrelson are among those who sold the idea of ​​the 5G coronavirus to their plots of 1,000 subscribers on social media.

A recent report from the Reuters Institute found that celebrities play a key role in spreading disinformation online.

Some have huge platforms on conventional media too. Eamonn Holmes has been criticized for showing that he offers some credibility to 5G conspiracy theorists on ITV This Morning.

“What I don’t accept is the mainstream media who immediately slap it as false when they don’t know it’s not true,” he said.

Later, Mr. Holmes apologized and Ofcom “issued directives” to ITV, judging the comments “poorly judged.”

Illustrations by Simon Martin. Additional reporting by Olga Robinson.

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