Covid-19 misinformation kills hundreds

  13 August 2020    Read: 973
  Covid-19   misinformation   kills hundreds

At least 800 people died around the world because of coronavirus-related misinformation in the first three months of this year, researchers say.

A study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene says about 5,800 people were admitted to hospital as a result of false information on social media.

Many died from drinking methanol or alcohol-based cleaning products.

They wrongly believed the products to be a cure for the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously said that the "infodemic" surrounding Covid-19 spread just as quickly as the virus itself, with conspiracy theories, rumours and cultural stigma all contributing to deaths and injuries.

False information costs lives

Many of the victims had followed advice resembling credible medical information - such as eating large amounts of garlic or ingesting large quantities of vitamins - as a way of preventing infection, the study's authors say. Others drank substances such as cow urine.

These actions all had "potentially serious implications" on their health, the researchers say.

The paper concludes that it is the responsibility of international agencies, governments and social media platforms to fight back against this "infodemic", but tech companies have been criticised for their slow and patchy response. In the UK, laws to regulate online harm might be several years away.

The BBC's own investigations found links to assaults, arson and deaths as a result of misinformation about the virus, and spoke to doctors, experts and victims about their experiences.

Online rumours led to mob attacks in India and mass poisonings in Iran. Telecommunications engineers have been threatened and attacked and phone masts have been set alight in the UK and other countries because of conspiracy theories that have been incubated and amplified online.

Social media also helps scammers to take advantage of the pandemic, selling ineffective badges that claim to ward off the virus, and urging followers to part with money in exchange for a "mineral miracle supplement", which is - in reality - diluted bleach.

 

BBC


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