We’re being overwhelmed by coronavirus information, and a lot of it is inaccurate

Tribune Content Agency

FORT WORTH, Texas — For weeks Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has been receiving fake news about COVID-19 from family members, acquaintances and anybody who has his cellphone number.

“I’m just getting the most bizarre conspiracy theory misinformation that arrives in multiple modes of communication,” Anchia said. “Part of what I spend my day doing is just dispelling that.”

As COVID-19 spreads across the world, a new virus is brewing and spreading like wildfire. From miraculous cures, to paranoid conspiracies, misinformation about the coronavirus has been going viral at such a disturbing rate that data and health scientists have deemed it an “infodemic.”

An infodemic is an overabundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it, according to a Feb. 2 report from the World Health Organization.

The organization, based in Geneva, has been working around the clock to track myths and rumors. Some of the myths it has busted include eating garlic, drinking chlorine and taking a hot bath to prevent infection of the new coronavirus.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit based in the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, have also been curating Q&As to help combat the misinformation.

Some of the viral posts offering false coronavirus tips on social media are wrongly attributed to Stanford University, according to the organization.

The posts provide a series of tips about the virus, including instructions for people to hold their breath to gauge whether they’ve been infected and falsely suggesting that water consumption can kill the virus.

The posts in some cases cite “Taiwan experts” or “Japanese doctors.”

Manlio De Domenico, a statistical physicist at the Infodemics Observatory and his team, have collected and analyzed about 100 million public messages on Twitter in an effort to measure the infodemic.

The observatory is a digital platform that allows users to visualize the infodemic risk of each country in the world. The project was started by the Bruno Kessler Center in Information and Communication Technology, an Italian research center that studies artificial intelligence, according to its website.

Between Jan. 22, when the city of Wuhan was locked down by Chinese authorities and March 14, around 275,000 Twitter accounts posted 1.7 million links to unreliable information about the virus, observatory data show.

Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Reddit say they’re working with government health agencies to ensure people see accurate information about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said they’ve received more than 8,300 people who have called their 24-hour coronavirus hotline 817-248-6299. Most people have been asking where to get tested for COVID-19 but some have also called to verify health-related information they found online.

“Drinking lots of water does help to fight infections, but to say it’s a cure for COVID-19 is false,” Taneja said. “People need to stay away from unverified posts on social media and look for credible sources such as large academic institutions or health departments.”


(Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer Mark Dent contributed to this report.)


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