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  • COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter 28 September 2021

    28 September 2021

    COVID-19 Newsletter

    YouTube comment section identified as major source of misinformation

    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. It is two-minute read.

    News briefing

    Social media influencers focused on healthy living spread an “alarming amount” of vaccine misinformation. While prominent anti-vaccine accounts can be shut down, it is difficult for social media platforms “to police tens of thousands of smaller accounts that might mix in one or two anti-vaccine messages among their normal wellness posts” (Washington Post).

    Demonstrators protesting against mandatory vaccination in Australia shut down freeways last week and engaged in violent confrontations with police and journalists. Construction unions led the demonstrations, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

    New laws against online hate speech in the run-up to Sunday’s election in Germany have not prevented “an influx of hate speech and harassment,” particularly against women and minority candidates. The New York Times reports that the impact of the laws on social media platforms remains unclear. Critics claim the German laws have served as a model for less democratic countries seeking to criminalize criticism of government officials.

    Academic Research

    Pro-Kremlin misinformation actors repeatedly infiltrated high-profile Western media outlets.Researchers at Cardiff University identified the network of misinformation actors who used the comments sections of at least 32 Western media outlets like The Times and The Washington Post to spread disinformation. Some comments were later recycled in Russian state media outlets as part of a large-scale influence operation.

    On YouTube, COVID-19-related misinformation prevails in comments rather than in videos. According to a study published in Online Social Networks and Media, approximately a quarter of all comments left on more than 400 COVID-19-related videos contained misinformation. The authors also argue that users spreading misinformation do not concentrate in fragmented information cocoons but are part of diverse networks.

    During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, information chaos gave rise to a specific type of misinformation – “hyperlocal information.” A report published by Tattle details that some (mis)information circulated among restricted audiences on WhatsApp and was not created or propagated in coordination during the pandemic. The researchers suggest that this type of (mis)information requires “distributed but coordinated verification.”

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