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Rumors about helicopters spraying chemicals go viral globally alongside COVID-19

Hoax mutated from one information environment to the next as it crossed borders and language boundaries

(Source: KaranKanishk/Libreshot)
GIF showing a timeline of the rumor appearing in Italy then spreading worldwide. (Source: @nikaaleksejeva/DFRLab)
WhatsApp message text translated from Italian: “From 23:00 tonight until 05:00 tomorrow morning a helicopter will disinfect everything, I recommend you not to leave clothes, shoes and other things outside and especially take care of dogs!” (Source: Mary Rocco Fanuli/archive, top left; Laura Barone/archive, top right; In Tempo Reale WEB TV/archive, bottom left; Mauro Brambilla Sindaco di Fontanella/archive, bottom right)
Text on the image translated from Georgian: “Today from 11:00 pm until 5:00 am tomorrow morning, helicopters will spray disinfectant in the air. Do not leave your laundry outside and of course do not go outside.” (Source: Mari Bedinadze Abashidze/archive)
Telegram message forwarded from a group to Moldovan users (left) and Uzbekistan (right). (Source: Nokta/archive, left; Podrobno/archive, right)
A Telegram message reposted on VK referencing punishment for allowing children to go outside. (Source: VK/archive)
Examples of different times mentioned in different versions of the false message highlighted pink. (Source: J’s Andrews/archive, top left; Red Singh/archive, top right; Tahir Khan/archive, bottom left; Михайловск24/archive, bottom right)
Examples of different helicopter count mentioned in messages. (Source: Corectiv.org/archive, top; Laura Bye/archive, bottom left; Esp.md/archive, bottom right)
Examples of different methods of how helicopters would be used in response to counter COVID-19. (Source: Mary Rocco Fanuli/archive, top left; Senator Roxanne Persaud/archive, top right; Info Roadblock JPJ/POLIS/archive, bottom left; Регион-48 | Липецк/archive, bottom right.)



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@AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab. Catalyzing a global network of digital forensic researchers, following conflicts in real time.