From using racist rhetoric to promoting dangerous “miracle cures,” President Donald Trump is by far the biggest spreader of COVID-19 false claims, according to a new analysis by researchers at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science, which identifies and combats misinformation and conspiracy theories about science.
The study, published by the university on Thursday, examined over 38 million English-language news articles about the coronavirus from Jan. 1 to May 26. Of those, just over a million contained misinformation or disinformation. Misinformation is any false information, regardless of whether the person sharing it intended to mislead, and disinformation is shared with the specific intent of misleading or deceiving.
Trump, the researchers concluded, is “likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation.” Nearly 38% of the articles mentioned the president, the study found, making him “by far the largest single component of the infodemic.”
In addition to direct mentions of Trump, there was significant overlap between news coverage of the president and news coverage of “miracle cures” because the president was often spreading the false information during White House briefings or to his millions of Twitter followers. Trump, for example, persistently touted the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as an effective coronavirus treatment, despite scientific research showing otherwise. He also ludicrously suggested that injecting disinfectant could wipe out the virus.
Other common categories of misinformation identified in the researchers’ analysis include racist conspiracy theories, such as those placing an outsized focus on the virus originating China and promoting racist tropes about people of Chinese descent.
Trump frequently refers to the pandemic using racist slurs and blames China in order to deflect from his own failed leadership. His rages have coincided with a wave of racism against Asian Americans this year.
Conspiracy theories often begin on social media and extremist websites. But the biggest danger arises when they’re repeated on influential platforms and blasted by those holding the biggest megaphones, the researchers said.
“It is especially notable that while misinformation and conspiracy theories promulgated by ostensibly grassroots sources, such as anti-vaccination groups, 5G opponents, and political extremists, do appear in our analysis in several of the topics, they contributed far less to the overall volume of misinformation than more powerful actors, in particular the U.S. President,” they wrote.
The researchers found that only 16.4% of the articles in the study specifically called out or corrected false information about the pandemic.
The study was being peer-reviewed for an academic journal, but the authors withdrew it because of the lengthy delay so they could share the findings immediately, according to The New York Times.
Read the full study here.
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