Dangerous Coronavirus Misinformation Attacks on Social Media

a 2-day Snapshot

Nir Hauser
Mar 25, 2020 · 6 min read

When misinformation is about a dangerous pandemic, it can be fatal. Just this Wednesday a Virginia pastor tragically passed away from Coronavirus. Two weeks ago, he shared a meme on Facebook that suggested Coronavirus reporting was mass hysteria whipped up by the media to attack President Trump. VineSight’s research shows that this meme has been heavily pushed by bots on social media.

This report will focus on the dangerous political misinformation surrounding the Coronavirus on March 16th and 17th. Specifically, VineSight looked at the two day window a week after the WHO officially declared the novel Coronavirus a pandemic. This report will look at the variation of misinformation as well as how these posts are amplified on social media. Are they mostly initiated by bots or are real humans involved in their spread?

This report has been prepared by VineSight, an AI startup that enables people and organizations to fight back against misinformation. VineSight’s algorithm constantly crawls the Internet’s social graphs for content and connections in order to detect misinformation mere moments after it’s released into the wild — regardless of whether it appears as raw text, images, memes, or video. Today, VineSight’s AI technology finds potential misinformation within hours after it is posted on social media.

Before we dive into the individual stories, let’s first get a sense of the most viral coronavirus political misinformation stories that are being pushed on social media. The graph below displays the percentage of viral misinformation related to each topic detected by VineSight on March 16th and 17th 2020, measured by the number of retweets/shares.

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Political Coronavirus Misinformation

Introduction: Virality and Amplification of Stories

Each section of this report consists of a different story that has a high probability of being misinformation. The posts in each section of this report have been tweeted, liked, and shared thousands of times.

In this article we will also frequently refer to our internal bot detection technology, which classifies if a Twitter account has bot-like attributes. Note that this does not necessarily indicate that the account has no human involvement, rather that it likely uses some sort of automation. For most of the tweets featured in this article, the majority of the retweets came from accounts with bot-like attributes.

Viral Misinformation Topic: The Media’s Coverage of the Coronavirus is Malicious.

During our 2-day time window (March 16th and 17th), there were viral tweets with tens of thousands of retweets and over 500,000 views that blamed the media for the “hysteria” surrounding the coronavirus.

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Original posts here, here, and here.

Notable points:
-
The majority of retweets for each of the tweets above originated from accounts with bot-like attributes
- The tweet by @RealJamesWoords was retweeted by these verified accounts:

  • @auctnr1 — Billy Long — U.S. Representative for Missouri’s 7th congressional district
  • @SebGorka — Sebastian Gorka — Former Deputy Assistant to President Trump
  • The account @loves_nra is now protected and therefore the tweet is no longer available

Viral Misinformation Topic: Coronavirus Is Not That Big Of A Deal

A week after the WHO officially declared the Coronavirus a pandemic, posts with over ten thousand shares went on to claim that the news about the Coronavirus is being exaggerated.

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Original posts here, here, here, and here

Notable points:
The tweet by @SidneyPowell1 was retweeted by these verified accounts:

  • @JennaEllisEsq — Legal Adviser to @TeamTrump and Attorney to @realDonaldTrump
  • @JessieJaneDuff- @TeamTrump Co-Chair Veterans for Trump, Advisory Board Women for Trump

- The “Sarah Hucklebee” account is a “parody account” that is not run by Sarah Sanders.

Viral Misinformation Topic: Coronavirus is a Tool to Hurt Trump

Viral tweets with tens of thousands of retweets are suggesting that the coronavirus “hysteria” is an attempt to politically weaken President Trump. A tweet by Bernard Kerik, a former NYPD commissioner, has over 20,000 retweets. Note the similarity between these viral tweets and the meme shared on Facebook by the Virginia pastor that tragically died of Coronavirus. The majority of retweets for each of the tweets below originated from accounts with bot-like attributes.

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Original posts can be found here, here, here and here.

Notable points:

  • The majority of retweets for each of the tweets above originated from accounts with bot-like attributes
  • Although Bill Mitchell’s account is verified, over 60% of his post’s retweets were by accounts with bot-like attributes.

Viral Misinformation Topic: Trump Family is Using the Pandemic to Increase Profits

Viral posts with thousands of shares are claiming that the Kushner family is profiting off coronavirus research.

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Original posts here, here, here.

Viral Misinformation Topic: Democrats are using the Coronavirus to Steal the General Election

Viral tweets alleged that the coronavirus is part of an elaborate scheme by the Democrats to steal the general election. These tweets have been retweeted over 9000 times combined.

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Original posts can be found here, here , here , here , here ,and here.

Notable points:

  • For all but two of the tweets above, over 75% of the retweeters exhibit bot-like attributes.

Viral Misinformation Topic : Other Conspiracies Surrounding the Coronavirus.

In addition to the stories mentioned above, there are a plethora of conspiracies involving the coronavirus making waves on both Facebook and Twitter. Below are a few of the most viral and toxic. Most of the posts try to assert blame and their targets range from Bill Gates to Planned Parenthood to the “Deep State”.

In particular, the story shared by former governor Mike Huckabee, can be found in various Facebook groups. It alleges that the “Deep State” is using the coronavirus fear-mongering to suppress dissent.

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Original posts here , here , here, and here.

Notable points:

  • The majority of retweets for each of the tweets below come from accounts with bot-like attributes.
  • Within the first two hours of the tweet by @kramerreport, over 250 accounts with bot-like attributes retweeted it.

Viral Misinformation Topic: Political “Elites” Conspiracy

Celebrities such as George Soros or the Clintons have also been the targets of trolls and bots. They are mainly blamed for starting the coronavirus. These tweets have been retweeted over 6000 times combined.

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Original posts here , here, here , and here.

Notable points:

  • The majority of retweets for each of the tweets above come from accounts with bot-like attributes.

Viral Misinformation Topic: DNC is Using the Coronavirus to Rig the Election against Bernie Sanders

Viral posts with thousands of retweets are claiming that the DNC and Joe Biden are exploiting the coronavirus to rig the election against Bernie Sanders.

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Original posts here , here, and here.

Notable points:

  • The tweet by @KyleLovesBernie originates from an account with bot-like attributes but was spread by mostly human accounts.

Conclusion

These stories only scratch the surface of what VineSight is currently seeing in the wild. If you are interested in getting deeper insights into misinformation about the coronavirus, or in defending yourself or your organization against misinformation, contact VineSight at info@vinesight.com.

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