The COVID-19 Social Media Infodemic Reflects Uncertainty and State-Sponsored Propaganda

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July 19, 2020

Significant attention has been devoted to determining the credibility of online misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media. Here, researchers compare the credibility of tweets about COVID-19 to datasets pertaining to other health issues. They found that the quantity of information about COVID-19 is indeed overwhelming, but that the majority of links shared cannot be rated for its credibility. Reasons for this failure to rate include widespread use of social media and news aggregators. The majority of links that could be rated came from credible sources; however, we found a large increase in the proportion of state-sponsored propaganda among non-credible and less credible URLs, suggesting that COVID-19 may be used as a vector to spread misinformation and disinformation for political purposes. Overall, results indicate that COVID-19 is unfolding in a highly uncertain information environment that not may amenable to fact-checking as scientific understanding of the disease, and appropriate public health measures, evolve. As a consequence, public service announcements must adequately communicate the uncertainly underlying these recommendations, while still encouraging healthy behaviors.

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