COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter 18 January 2022
18 January 2022
Omicron revived old conspiracy theories. New details on COVID-19 origins influence operation linked to China
The COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter is prepared by the staff of the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech) at Oxford University. We summarise the latest independent research and high-quality news reporting on the production and consumption of computational propaganda and campaigns to manipulate public understanding of the health crisis. The newsletter is edited by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka. Our newsletter is a two-minute read.
A new coronavirus variant revived old conspiracy theories, AP reports. For example, widely shared social media posts falsely claimed the Omicron variant was nothing but a cover-up for darker agendas, such as pushing for mail-in ballots in the 2022 midterm elections. Facebook has sold ads that promoted anti-vaccine messages and compared the US government’s response to COVID-19 to Nazi Germany. According to CNN, the ads have been run by companies that have spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on Facebook. The company does not manually review all of the ads it sells, which is why ads that have violated Facebook’s rules have been shown. Facebook published the details of a network maintained from China that engaged in a “largely unsuccessful influence operation” that focused on COVID-19 origins. It consisted of 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, four Groups, and 86 accounts on Instagram and involved “employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies,” according to the company’s Adversarial Threat Report. DemTech researchers have uncovered a similar network operating on Twitter.
“Interagency government task forces need to be established to examine options for countering coordinated disinformation from both national anti-vaccine activist groups and state actors.” At the same time, the scientific community should engage in educating the public, community leaders and journalists about vaccination programmes as early as possible. These are some of the recommendations for promoting COVID-19 vaccine acceptance published by the Lancet Commission. Exposure to health misinformation on social media generates fear, panic, depression, stress, and anxiety. The elderly population is especially susceptible to the impacts of misinformation. These are the findings of a systematic literature review published in Journal of Public Health. Even subscribers to a COVID-related fact-checking newsletter are inclined to share possible misinformation. 24% of participants had shared possible misinformation; a lower belief in science predicted such sharing. The findings are published in PLoS ONE.
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