Story at a glance

  • The Pew poll found 43 percent of Americans say the coronavirus likely came about naturally.
  • About half of Americans say they’ve come across at least some news about COVID-19 that seemed completely made up.
  • There’s no evidence to support the claim the coronavirus was manufactured in a lab.

Nearly 3 out of 10 Americans believe an unsubstantiated claim that the coronavirus — which has infected more than 1.8 million people and killed more than 116,000 worldwide — was made in a lab, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center

The poll found that as 43 percent of Americans say the coronavirus most likely came about naturally, 29 percent say it most likely was created in a lab. Of that 29 percent, 23 percent say it is most likely the current strain of coronavirus was developed intentionally in a lab, while 6 percent say it was most likely made accidentally in a lab. A quarter of participants said they aren’t sure where the virus came from. The survey was conducted from March 10-16.

The poll also found Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to say the coronavirus was created in a lab — 37 percent to 21 percent respectively. Meanwhile, 39 percent of conservative Republicans said the coronavirus was created in a lab. 

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Younger people were also more likely than older adults to say the virus originated in a lab. The poll found 35 percent of adults ages 18-29 say the virus was developed in a lab, compared with 21 percent of adults 65 and older. 

Meanwhile, 19 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or more education say the coronavirus was made in a lab, while 35 percent of those with a high school diploma or less education believe so. 

While experts are still trying to figure out the exact source of the virus, research has indicated it likely originated in bats and was transmitted to an intermediate host before jumping to people, just like the virus that caused the 2003 SARS epidemic. 

A study published in Nature Medicine last month compared the genome of the new coronavirus with several others known to infect humans and researchers concluded that “analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” 

The rumor that the coronavirus came from a lab originated from unverified social media accounts and hasn’t been supported by any credible evidence, according to CNN

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As the coronavirus outbreak turned into a full-blown public health crisis, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the disease began to swirl — so much so it prompted the World Health Organization to call it an “infodemic.” 

Tech giants have also taken action to fight the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus pandemic. 

Google recently announced it would provide $6.5 million for fact-checkers, news organizations and nonprofits around the world to track and expose misinformation. Twitter last month said it would remove any coronavirus-related posts that promoted fake treatment techniques, denied expert recommendations or falsely claimed to represent government authorities. Facebook is also spending $100 million to support the news industry and increase fact-checking. 

The poll from Pew found nearly a majority of Americans have been presented with misinformation about the coronavirus. The survey found 48 percent report having come across at least some news and information about COVID-19 that seemed completely made up, with 12 percent reporting they have seen a lot.


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Published on Apr 13, 2020