Coronavirus and the age of fake news

A look at why the social and political landscape is the perfect breeding ground for fake news

Maud Webster
19th April 2020
People can be gullible. As COVID-19 spans across the globe, we are also seeing a spread of fake news which causes dangerous misconceptions. As expected with a novel disease, we don’t yet know exactly how it spreads, the full range of symptoms, or how immunity to COVID-19 works. Whilst they've made educated guesses, scientists haven’t been afforded the time to figure out these specifics yet. 

It seems many people are taking this natural lack of information to assume that governments are holding back facts deliberately. In countries like America, trust in the government has plummeted in recent years, and some media outlets are latching onto this disillusionment to immorally spread fake news, a slanderous phrase popularised during the 2016 American presidential election. Due to the ‘free’ nature of the press and the deluge of content entering unregulated platforms, especially on the impossible-to-police internet, it’s easy for just about anyone to make up incorrect news and circulate it.

Roughly half of all adults in the UK have been exposed to misleading information online

There are many facets of fake news that relate to the coronavirus pandemic, as expected. According to Ofcom, in the UK roughly half of all adults have been exposed to misleading information online regarding COVID-19. For example, around 35% have seen the suggestion that upping water intake will "flush out" the disease, which doesn’t align with World Health Organisation guidelines. 

False claims about how the disease originated are also popular. 23% of Americans believe coronavirus was created intentionally, according to the Pew Research Centre

Hysteria and a lack of facts have created the perfect climate for fake news

Obviously people are terrified of the disease, and clearly they have a right to be: it’s devastating. Mass hysteria combined with a lack of actual facts about the disease (as there’s not been enough time to collect sufficient data) have created a climate perfect for the spread of fake news. But as it’s clearly too tricky to control what’s being released in the media and online, perhaps it’s now up to the individual to scrutinise the information they’re handed, rather than digesting it without a thought.

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/22 academic year

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