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University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

COVID-19 Disinformation is on the Rise: Here’s What We Know

April 27, 2020
Jacob Shapiro, Kristen DeCaires, and Jan Oledan


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, IGCC expert Jacob Shapiro, Professor of politics at Princeton University, Kristen DeCaires, Program Manager for the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC), and Jan Oledan, a consultant at the World Bank, analyze the wide range of COVID-19 disinformation. 

The spread of COVID-19 is being mirrored online by widely-circulated disinformation about the virus. Claims that COVID-19 came from bat soup; that holding your breath for 10 seconds can determine if you have the disease; and that it was manufactured as a bio-weapon (among others) have attracted attention from academic and civil society organizations alike. Major technology companies are ramping up operations to combat the “infodemic” on their platforms.

Concern is warranted. Health misinformation is associated with higher rates of preventable infection and ultimately death. During the Ebola outbreak, mortality rates were much higher in countries where misinformation was rampant, in part because their populations were less willing to adhere to public health guidelines. By contrast, the disease was contained in countries with strong communications strategies, such as Nigeria.

Maliciously orchestrated, deliberate campaigns are well-documented during pandemics. During the rise of HIV/AIDS, the Soviet Union launched Operation Infektionwhich planted a series of fake scientific papers on the origin and transmission of the virus, and was arguably responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths and long-lasting conspiracy theories among at-risk populations. Recent reports show that Russia, along with other countries, is actively spreading disinformation about COVID-19.

So what kind of disinformation is out there, and who’s propagating it?

Read the full article at Political Violence At A Glance.