India, US among countries with highest circulation of misinformation about COVID-19: Study

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Aug 11, 2020, 09.18 AM(IST)

Volunteers wearing protective gear stand before spraying disinfectant on a street as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kabul June 18, 2020 Photograph:( AFP )

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The researchers hail from different parts of the world like Australia, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Japan

Misinformation about COVID-19 has been circulating in 25 different languages across 87 countries, and has led to extra deaths and injuries.

Besides false information, conspiracy theories and stigma surrounding COVID-19 have been spreading around the world.

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The new study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygience claims analysed rumours and conspiracy theories posted online between December 31 and April 5, 2020.

The researchers hail from different parts of the world like Australia, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Japan.

Clear distinctions

According to them, a “rumour” is any unverified information that is found to be “true, fabricated, or entirely false” after running a verification check.

They defined “stigma” as a way to discriminate and devalue a group, while “conspiracy theory” was defined as people working in secret to achieve malicious goals.

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To this end, the researchers took into account 2,311 reports about coronavirus misinformation from 87 countries, in 25 languages.

They found that 89 per cent of such reports were rumours, 7.8 per cent were conspiracy theories, and 3.5 per cent contributed to stigma.

For a better understanding, the authors used examples like “drinking bleach may kill coronavirus”, which signifies a rumour. While “every virus comes from China” was a stigma inducing trope. Similarly, the idea of someone deploying the virus as a weapon, or in this case, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation would qualify as a conspiracy theory.

Sources of misinformation

Most misinformation came from these countries: India, the United States, China, Spain, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Out of these, 24 per cent were reports about illnesses caused by the virus, while 21 per cent were about controlling the virus, 19 per cent for treatment and cures, 15 per cent on the virus’ origins, 1 per cent about violence, and 20 per cent were flagged as miscellaneous.

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The researchers noted how such misleading information was causing more deaths and injury than would happen in an ideal situation.

While alluding to the myth that drinking highly concentrated alcohol can kill the virus, the researchers claimed that 800 people have died just due to this, while 5,876 have been hospitalised. An additional 60 have become completely blind after drinking methanol.