Editorial: COVID-19 conspiracies

The ISD Editorial Board discusses the spread of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

Editorial Board

In the past five months, there has been a huge wave of misinformation and conspiracy theories regarding the novel coronavirus. 

These include theories that Bill Gates himself created the virus to microchip people via a COVID-19 vaccine and that elites are using the pandemic to gain power. 

Misinformation has also been spreading rapidly on social media, including false claims that the flu is more deadly than COVID-19 and hydroxychloroquine is a cure for coronavirus. 

Both of these claims are false. 

COVID-19 is both more contagious and more deadly than normal influenza. We know much more about the flu than the novel coronavirus, and there is a widely available vaccine for the flu each year. Though influenza viruses circulate year-round, their peak is generally from December to February. The spread of COVID-19, on the other hand, has not significantly decreased so far, despite the warm weather.

Hydroxychloroquine is not currently Food and Drug Administration-approved, and there has been no widely-accepted, definitive evidence that taking the drug treats symptoms of COVID-19 or reduces the mortality rate. There is currently no cure. 

Unfortunately, misinformation doesn’t just circulate from regular citizens online.  

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns one of the largest local TV networks in the country, was planning to air an interview with conspiracy theorist Judy Mikovits, who was interviewed in a widely circulated conspiracy video called “Plandemic.” The video features claim that masks ‘activate’ the virus and a vaccine would kill millions of people.

Both claims are completely false

The decision by Sinclair to broadcast such a video, which features nothing but conspiracy theories about everything from masks to Dr. Anthony Fauci, was reckless and irresponsible. After huge amounts of backlash, the broadcasting group chose to delay airing the video. 

Even the president has gotten in on the action, alongside his son, Donald Trump Jr

The president makes — usually on Twitter, but sometimes during press conferences — misleading and downright confusing statements regarding coronavirus, at times contradicting his previous statements and his administration’s advice.  

He and his son recently retweeted — though the tweets are no longer available — a viral video on Twitter that features a group of people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors.”  

The video claims, among other things, you don’t need to wear a mask. However, according to researchers, doctors, scientists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House, it is recommended you wear a mask when you go out.  

The president of the United States, with the biggest platform in the world, is spreading misinformation and undermining his own administration’s health guidance and strategies. You can read his recent remarks on the video and his views here

Misinformation can come from every level of society, from the top or the bottom. With that in mind, how do we combat misinformation and lessen the spread of conspiracy theories, especially regarding a deadly pandemic? 

Social media needs to do a better job monitoring and preventing misinformation from spreading on their platforms; however, they cannot catch and remove everything, nor should they. Social media cannot and should not try to censor every person who lies on social media, but they should limit the spread of potentially harmful misinformation (false claims that could impact a large number of people). 

Instead, we have a responsibility as individuals to determine the difference between credible sources and misinformation. Anyone can fall prey to this no matter how well-informed you are. There’s a chance you’ve come across a piece of misinformation, most likely on social media. 

There are ways to easily debunk false information on your feed: use your head, think critically and pause before you send or share something.