Study finds Trump was ‘the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation’ early in pandemic

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A study released Thursday determined that President Trump was “the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation” during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Cornell University study analyzed more than 38 million articles about the pandemic between Jan. 1 and May 26 that were published in English-language media around the world. Researchers determined that mentions of Trump made up 37.9 percent of “the overall misinformation conversation,” more than anything else. 

The study concluded that Trump was “likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic,’ ” as the World Health Organization has called COVID-19 misinformation.

“The biggest surprise was that the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid,” Sarah Evanega, the study’s head author, told The New York Times.

The study describes itself as the first comprehensive study on coronavirus misinformation in traditional and online media. 

Out of the 38 million articles, more than 1.1 million — just less than 3 percent — included misinformation.

The research pointed out 11 widespread misinformation or conspiracy theories such as the theory that Democrats created the pandemic to concur with Trump’s impeachment trial and the claim that attributed the outbreak in Wuhan, China, to people who consumed bats in soup.

The most common misinformation was about “miracle cures” for COVID-19, which appeared more often than the 10 other categories combined.  

For example, in March, the president touted the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine, despite the fact there there was not proof of its effectiveness against COVID-19. 

The following month, Trump recommended making an “injection” inside one’s body with a disinfectant and using ultraviolet light on the body to treat COVID-19. At the presidential debate this week, he said he was being sarcastic with those comments.

The day following Trump’s suggestions to inject disinfectants, more than 30,000 articles in the “miracle cure” misinformation category were published. A few days earlier less than 10,000 were published and categorized as “miracle cure” misinformation.  

Health experts said misinformation about COVID-19 and its treatment make the public less likely to follow official health advice. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Times that COVID-19 misinformation is “one of the major reasons” the U.S. is not combating the virus as well as some countries.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed. Evanega told the Times the research was going through a peer review by an academic journal, but the process was taking too long, and the researchers felt they had to share the information sooner.

The study was conducted by the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is a nonprofit that promotes using science to improve food security and environmental sustainability.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus treatment COVID-19 Disinfectants Donald Trump Hydroxychloroquine misinformation Pandemic

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