Fake News in the Time of Coronavirus, A Study by Boom

BOOM, India’s premier fact-checking website, recently released a data-driven study titled “Fake News in The Time of Coronavirus: A BOOM Study”. The study analysed 178 fact-checks on COVID-19, since the beginning of the outbreak, related to misinformation/disinformation around the pandemic from January to May 2020, through data and evidence of viral information, such as trending news topics and types of media through which this information was disseminated.

While BOOM did its first COVID-19 fact-check on January 25, 2020, February saw major events like the Delhi Elections, Donald Trump’s India visit and the Delhi riots dominate the fake news cycle. There was a drastic change of topic in March, as more COVID-19 related misinformation went viral online. BOOM also found evidence suggesting that the number of fact-checks published by them had a positive correlation with the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. During this period, as the number of cases grew, so did their number of pandemic-related fact-checks.

An analysis of BOOM’s stories revealed that a bulk of the COVID-19-related fact checks were on communal rumours, most of which were false allegations against Muslims, of purposefully spreading the virus. These messages appeared in April, after several members of the Tablighi Jamaat – an Islamic Missionary group, tested positive for the virus following a massive congregation in Delhi in March.

TOP 10 FAKE NEWS TOPICS BETWEEN JANUARY – APRIL, 2020:

Topics like Prediction Theory, Bioweapon, Economy, Health, Politics, Italy, China, Cure/Prevention/Treatment, Lockdown & Communal were trending in the news between the months of January to April:

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  1. During January-February: saw mostly rumors about China, with some false prediction theories and cures/prevention/treatments to COVID-19.
  2. During March: Fake news on Italy and lockdowns went viral; conspiracy theories regarding the virus being a Bioweapon became viral.
  3. During April: a new trend was observed – communally charged disinformation targeting Muslims became more frequent. After several members of the Tablighi Jamaat – an Islamic missionary group – tested positive, Islamophobic rumours around them purposefully spreading the virus became viral on the internet.

Other trends also witnessed in April were: a spike in fake news related to politics; more lockdown related misinformation; more misinformation around Italy; rumors related to the economy.

FAKE NEWS BY TYPE OF MEDIA:

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Most of the false or misleading claims were circulated with videos (35%) with a spike in April and surge in videos targeting Muslim vendors with allegations of spitting on food items to spread the virus. There was also a significant number of text messages (29.4%) being shared with fake cures, treatments, or quotes from celebrities, along with images (29.4%) that were either misrepresented or doctored. These spiked in March, as false notifications and lockdown guidelines became viral. They also noticed a small number of audio clips (2.2%) going viral with false contexts. A few of their fact-checks were on news reports (4%) by mainstream media organisations. Most of these stories were found to make false claims against a particular community.

The full study can be viewed here: https://www.boomlive.in/fact-file/fake-news-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-a-boom-study-8008

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