Quantifying sources and themes in the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

Evanega, Sarah; Lynas, Mark; Adams, Jordan; Smolenyak, Karinne

The World Health Organization has stated that a parallel “infodemic” of misinformation is
undermining efforts to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This study identifies the most
prominent misinformation topics that appeared in traditional and online media in the early phase
of the pandemic, from January 1 up to May 26, 2020.
The results come from a sample of 38 million articles published in English-language media around
the world, making this the first fully comprehensive study of COVID misinformation in the
media yet carried out.
One major finding is that media mentions of President Trump within the context of different
misinformation topics made up 37% of the overall “misinformation conversation,” much more than
any other single topic. The study concludes that Donald Trump was likely the largest driver of
the COVID-19 misinformation “infodemic.”
In contrast only 16% of media mentions of misinformation were explicitly “fact-checking”
in nature, suggesting that a substantial quantity of misinformation reaches media consumers
without being challenged or accompanied by factually accurate information.
These findings are of significant concern because if people are misled by unscientific and
unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may attempt harmful cures or be less likely
to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.