Types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation

reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk
8 min read
fairly difficult
This factsheet looks into the types of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, and the motivations behind those spreading them.
Key Findings | General overview | Scale: massive growth in fact-checks about COVID-19 | Formats: little coronavirus misinformation is completely fabricated. All of it is technologically simple | Sources: misinformation moves top-down as well as bottom-up | Claims: much misinformation concerns the actions of public authorities | Responses: platforms have responded to much, but not all, of the misinformation identified by fact-checkers | Conclusions and recommendations | Footnotes | References | Acknowledgements | About the authors | Methodological Appendix

Key findings ↑

In this factsheet we identify some of the main types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation seen so far. We analyse a sample of 225 pieces of misinformation rated false or misleading by fact-checkers and published in English between January and the end of March 2020, drawn from a collection of fact-checks maintained by First Draft.

We find that:

In terms of scale, independent fact-checkers have moved quickly to respond to the growing amount of misinformation around COVID-19; the number of English-language fact-checks rose more than 900% from January to March. (As fact-checkers have limited resources and cannot check all problematic content, the total volume of different kinds of coronavirus misinformation has almost certainly grown even faster.)

In terms of formats, most (59%) of the misinformation in our sample involves various forms of reconfiguration, where existing and often true information is spun, twisted, recontextualised, or reworked. Less misinformation (38%) was completely fabricated. Despite a great deal of recent concern, we find no examples of deep fakes in our sample. Instead, the manipulated content includes 'cheap fakes' produced using much simpler tools. The reconfigured misinformation accounts for 87% of social media interactions in the sample; the fabricated content, for 12%.

In terms of sources, top-down misinformation from politicians, celebrities, and other…
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