Twitter accounts confirmed to have spread fake COVID-19 news

COVID-19, fake news
Thousands of tweets about the global coronavirus pandemic have been deemed untrue in recent months. Photo credit: Pixabay

The coronavirus pandemic tumbled the world into turmoil a few months ago. There seems to be plenty of people who want to add to this chaos.

Since the beginning of the corona crisis, at least 50 anonymous Twitter accounts have spread fake news about COVID-19. And that, in the Netherlands alone. That’s according to the data news platform, Pointer (KRO-NCRV).

This platform looked at 1.7 million tweets about the coronavirus. They identified at least 50 accounts that were spreading fake news about this pandemic. What’s more, more than 500 additional accounts look to be false too.

These are trolls – social media accounts with the sole purpose of sowing unrest and disrupting society. “You often see trolls spreading fake news. This is done from an ideological point of view to rebel against the establishment,” says data journalist, Jerry Vermanen.

Looked at accounts

He was speaking on ‘Pointer’, a NOS Radio 1 news show. NOS is the Dutch national broadcaster. “We’ve looked at the reports’ content before. Now, we delved more into the accounts themselves.”

“Sometimes they’re not real people, or they’re in a different time zone. It’s often still unclear who’s behind them.” Vermanen has an idea of how some of the fake news ends up on social media.

“We think fake news sites set up some trolls. They distribute content for a certain website. But sometimes trolls only get involved in conversations. Then it’s harder to say who’s behind it.”

5G, conspiracy theory, coronavirus
5G was one of the causes for COVID-19, these trolls would have people believe. Photo credit: F.Muhammed/Pixabay

Over the past five months, people have widely spread 530 reports of fake coronavirus news. These include claims that the virus is no more lethal than the flu. Or that it has been grown in a laboratory or caused by the 5G network.

Shared far and wide

These ‘news’ items and videos were shared thousands of time – in 12,354 tweets by 3,901 accounts.

People created almost half of the confirmed troll accounts after the first COVID-19 infection in the Netherlands. There are ways people can recognise these fake accounts. Trolls usually have anonymous usernames and profile photos. They also show one-sided Twitter behaviour and have a small social network.

The trouble-stirrers question things like the coronavirus’s seriousness. They attribute the virus to conspiracies and spread false claims about drugs. As a result of the investigation, Twitter took action against 14 trolls. That included suspending and temporarily restricting the accounts.

On 18 March, Twitter tightened its policy to deal with accounts that spread fake news about COVID-19. In that same month, Pointer and NOS did their own research. It showed that most of the twitter news items about COVID-19 were reliable.

However, of the more than 10,000 messages checked, hundreds contained fake news. That probably reached thousands of people.

Source: NOS

Translator: Melinda Walraven

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