Disinformation websites attracting ‘staggeringly high volume’ of interactions around COVID-19

A photo of someone reading fake news or disinformation online on their laptop.

A “pioneering investigation” has discovered a number of disinformation websites are garnering a “staggeringly high volume” of interactions related to COVID-19. Researchers also found “hundreds of thousands of far right posts around COVID-19”. And they revealed a “marked increase” in conversations around the supposed role of global elites, such as Bill Gates and George Soros, in the outbreak of the virus. 

The investigators argued that some of the false information being intentionally shared is “harmful and potentially life-threatening”. 

A “stark” difference

The revelations come from an investigative partnership between the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and BBC Click. It involved monitoring 34 websites associated with promoting disinformation and analysing the interactions with such websites on Facebook. 

In a report published on 15 May it was revealed that the 34 websites “gathered the staggeringly high volume of 80 million interactions on public Facebook between January and April, 2020”. By comparison, posts linking to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received 6.2m and 6.4m interactions respectively. 

The disparity in interactions is described as “a stark one”. 

Increased far-right attention

Researchers also drew attention to the role of the far right in conversations about COVID-19. In the report it’s stated that:

The far-right has dramatically increased its attention on certain topics in light of the COVID-19 crisis. The clearest pattern in the data is the increase in conversations about so-called ‘elites’, including Bill Gates, George Soros, the Rothschilds and Jeff Bezos.

Analysis of the conversations showed the widespread presence of conspiracy theories about the pandemic. 

There were references to COVID-19 “as a tool of social control” or as part of a plan to kill certain sections of the world’s population. Another common feature of the discussions was the idea that the virus is a way for certain individuals, institutions, and corporations to profit. 

Facebook responded to the report’s findings by stating that it removed a number of posts “for violating our policies on hate speech and the spread of harmful misinformation”. 

But, the report declared,

There remains a lot more work to be done in order to stem the tide of harmful and potentially life-threatening intentional falsehoods online during this crisis.

Irish COVID conspiracies

As reported previously by The Beacon, a number of Irish anti-lockdown groups on Telegram are actively spreading conspiracy theories about the virus. Members of the groups have written that the virus is not a threat and that the media has been “fear mongering [sic]”.

Others have attempted to link the spread of the virus to the emergence of 5G technology.

This link has been roundly debunked, with one scientist describing the idea as “complete rubbish”. 

Featured image via Pixabay – memyselfaneye


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