Coronavirus: Far-right spreads Covid-19 ‘infodemic’ on Facebook
“What happens if [they] they’re trying to kill as many people as possible, “reads a Facebook post.
“Eventually, this scum will release something really bad to wipe us all out, but first they must train us to be obedient slaves,” reads another.
A third: “Coronavirus is the most recent Islamist weapon.”
By now many of us will have seen something “infodemic” that the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it is swirling across society.
Whether it fits into your online timeline or is forwarded by a relative, it would have been a voice or revelation so captivating, so surprisingly different from the norm, that it’s hard to ignore it.
However, while the false claims about the coronavirus have been difficult to lose, the underlying interests and ideologies have been much less visible.
Now, a co-investigation conducted by BBC Click and the UK’s extremist contrast think tank indicates that both extremist and marginal medical communities have attempted to exploit the online pandemic.
Chloe Colliver led the study: “We started doing this research because we were interested in looking at the intersection of extremism and disinformation online,” he explained.
“We wanted to know how the coronavirus crisis was affecting these trends.”
First, the researchers collected around 150,000 public Facebook posts posted by 38 far-right groups and pages since January.
They used keywords to pinpoint each post’s key themes, then algorithms to map what each group tended to talk about in general.
Researchers identified five communities, united by the topic of discussion:
The numbers, probably indicative rather than providing the complete picture, show that for the first four of these, the scale of activity had not increased in volume since the blockade.
But while there were no more messages on immigration, for example, discussions on the subject had increasingly tied him to Covid-19.
It is the same for the theme of Islam: the scale was constant, but more and more discussions had started to explicitly link the virus to Muslims, claiming that they were exempt from the blockade, blaming them for its spread and even hoping that they would take it.
But the fifth and largest community – the “elite” community – had shown a significant spike in activity during the blockade.
Discussions included the relationship of these “elites” – like Jeff Bezos, the Rothschilds, George Soros and Bill Gates – to the “deep state”, and their alleged role in causing the pandemic.
The researchers found that in addition to tying it to the “elite”, this community was more likely than any other to think that the virus was designed, hyper-mortgaged or already had a cure.
“This was the big change,” explained Colliver.
“Anti-elite conversations have increased dramatically, especially taking home the idea that the blockade is an instrument of social control.”
As they delved into the posts, the researchers took note of many thousands of links that direct users to marginal political and healthcare websites.
Newsguard, a website classification organization, had identified 34 of them with shared coronavirus information that was “materially false”.
“The key interests behind these websites were marginal politics or marginal health, sometimes both of which are enclosed,” continued Colliver.
What surprised the researchers, however, was the size: “The scale was enormous.”
They counted the total number of “interactions” – likes, shares, comments, and so on – that every public post on Facebook had received that contained a link to one of these 34 sites.
In the same period of time:
- the WHO website received 6.2 million interactions
- the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) received 6.4 million
- TheEpochTimes.com, a news site whose advertising was banned by Facebook and which was accused of secret non-authentic activity from both Facebook and Twitter last year, received over 48 million interactions
The 34 websites together received over 80 million interactions.
- nearly 150,000 interactions for HumansAreFree.com, which claimed that the “plandemic” had been prepared years before the outbreak
- about 1.7 million interactions for RealFarmacy.com, which mistakenly claims that personal ultraviolet lamps are a safe remedy for coronavirus
The “interactions” do not imply an agreement and have been counted for each website in general, not exclusively for incorrect information about the coronavirus.
“We have removed some links shared by BBC Click for violating our hate speech and the dissemination of harmful information on disinformation,” said Facebook in response to the study.
“Where a post does not violate our policies but is deemed false by third-party fact-checkers, we reduce its distribution and display the warning labels that mark the post as false. When people see these warning labels, 95% Sometimes they do not continue to display the original content, “he said.
There are also many other ways that the CDC and WHO can disclose their information to the public.
Recent research by the British watchdog Ofcom suggests that most people learn of the virus from traditional sources.
However, what the WHO has called an “infodemic” seems more like a parallel world, complete with social organization, activism and gift shops.
It is what marginal politics and marginal health started to mix. Both have the idea that the blockade is not about security but about control, from which they promise to “free” their followers.
Given its size and energy, it is a world that can also pose a growing threat to the blockade itself and to the medical and political consensus on which it is based.