• Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:57 pm

Covid-19 misinformation on social media causes hundreds of deaths

  • Published at 10:43 am August 13th, 2020
Coronavirus patient the virus
A nurse wheels away a man as the people who brought him to Houston Methodist Hospital watch amid a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in Houston, Texas, U.S., June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

The infodemic surrounding Covid-19 spread just as quickly as the virus itself, WHO has said

Covid-19 misinformation has killed at least 800 people around the world in the first three months of this year, researchers said.

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

Many died from drinking methanol or alcohol-based cleaning products, as they wrongly believed the products were a cure for the virus.

Previously, the World HealthOrganization (WHO) said 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, the report said.

Lives lost due to false information

As a way of preventing infection, the study's authors said that many of the victims had followed advice resembling credible medical information such as eating large amounts of garlic or ingesting large quantities of vitamins while many others drank substances such as cow urine.

The researchers said these actions all had "potentially serious implications" on their health.

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

BBC's own investigations have 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.

The report further mentioned that rumours had 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.

Scammers also took advantage of the pandemic on social media by selling ineffective badges that claimed to kill the virus which urged followers to part with money in exchange for a "mineral miracle supplement", which was in reality diluted bleach.

Anti-vaccine campaigners a threat to Covid-19 vaccine

There is the further threat that anti-vaccine campaigners will use social media platforms to persuade people not to protect themselves, as vaccines emerge.

Recent polling in the United States showed that 28% of Americans believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people, despite social media companies removing or labelling misleading information about vaccines. 

Doctors fear that the achievement of an effective Covid-19 vaccine could be completely undermined by misinformation, the report concluded.

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