Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic of the coronavirus disease 2019 has caused a large number of conspiracy theories and misinformation about where the pandemic started, how serious it is and the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.[1][2][3]


According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic was also an infodemic, with misinformation spreading like disease.[2] This was because social media let information spread quickly, because celebrities sometimes repeated conspiracy theories, and because many people were locked down at home without much else to listen to. When doctors or government officials went on television to say these conspiracy theories were wrong, that only made people think the conspiracy theories were important enough for doctors and officials to talk about.[4] One group of scientists said governments could use conspiracy theories to distract people from real problems.[5]

Fake information has been spread through social media,[6] text messages,[7] and mass media,[8] including the state media of countries such as China,[9][10] Russia,[11][12] Iran,[13] and Turkmenistan.[2][14]

It has been spread by celebrities, politicians[15][16] (including leaders in countries such as the United States,[17][18] Iran,[19] and Brazil[20]), and other important public figures.[21] Commercial scams have claimed to offer at-home tests and "miracle" cures.[22][23]

Other claims include that the virus is a bio-weapon with a patented vaccine, a population control scheme, or the result of a spy operation.[24] Many theories say that there is a link between the virus and Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). They believe that the virus escaped from the WIV by accident.[25]

Origins of the virus

One survey by Pew Research showed 29% of Americans who answered thought SARS-CoV-2 could have been made in a lab on purpose and 23% thought it could have been made in a lab by accident.[26]

In early May 2020, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was "enormous evidence" that the virus was from a laboratory in Wuhan. but he said it could have been an accident. Intelligence officials and virus scientists said it was more likely that the virus had not come from a lab.[27]

A survey of people in the United Kingdom showed many of them thought COVID-19 was caused by 5G wireless networks.[28]

When the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that he did not want the United States to help his country against coronavirus, he named the idea that Americans had made the virus on purpose to harm Iranians as one of his reasons: "I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?"[29]

Scientific studies on the origins of the virus

On March 17, 2020, scientists from Columbia University and other places published a paper in Nature Medicine showing that SARS-CoV-2 was almost surely not made by humans in a laboratory. They did this by comparing the genomes of different viruses to each other.[30] The scientists saw that SARS-CoV-2 did not match any of the viral backbones that already exist for virologists to use.[31] Within a few weeks, this became one of the most cited scientific papers in history, meaning other scientists were reading it and using its information.


  1. "China coronavirus: Misinformation spreads online about origin and scale". BBC News. January 30, 2020. Archived from the original on February 4, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kassam, Natasha (March 25, 2020). "Disinformation and coronavirus". The Interpreter. Lowy Institute. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  3. "Here's A Running List Of Disinformation Spreading About The Coronavirus". Buzzfeed News. Archived from the original on February 6, 2020. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  4. Queensland University of Technology (August 6, 2020). "COVID-19 a perfect storm for conspiracy theories". Press release. https://www.qut.edu.au/news?id=167551. Retrieved August 6, 2020. 
  5. Axel Bruns; Stephen Harrington; Edward Hurcombe. "'Corona? 5G? or both?': the dynamics of COVID-19/5G conspiracy theories on Facebook". Media International Australia. doi:10.1177/1329878X20946113. Retrieved August 6, 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. McDonald, Jessica (January 24, 2020). "Social Media Posts Spread Bogus Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory". Factcheck.org. Archived from the original on February 6, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  7. Hannah Murphy, Mark Di Stefano & Katrina Manson (March 20, 2020). "Huge text message campaigns spread coronavirus fake news". Financial Times.
  8. Thomas, Elise (April 14, 2020). "As the Coronavirus Spreads, Conspiracy Theories Are Going Viral Too". Foreign Policy. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  9. Kuo, Lily (March 13, 2020). "'American coronavirus': China pushes propaganda casting doubt on virus origin". The Guardian. London.
  10. Raphael Satter, Robin Emmott, Jack Stubbs (April 25, 2020). "China pressured EU to drop COVID disinformation criticism: sources". Reuters.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. "Coronavirus: Russia pushing fake news about US using outbreak to 'wage economic war' on China, officials say". Agence France-Presse. February 23, 2020. Archived from the original on February 23, 2020. Retrieved February 27, 2020 – via South China Morning Post.
  12. Galeotti, Mark (April 10, 2020). "Coronavirus Propaganda a Problem for the Kremlin, Not a Ploy". The Moscow Times.
  13. Frantzman, Seth (March 8, 2020). "Iran's regime pushes antisemitic conspiracies about coronavirus". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on March 10, 2020. Retrieved March 11, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  14. Putz, Catherine. "Did Turkmenistan Really Ban the Word 'Coronavirus'?". thediplomat.com. Retrieved April 10, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  15. "Mexico: Mexicans Need Accurate COVID-19 Information". Human Rights Watch. March 26, 2020.
  16. "Boris Johnson's government has considered the possibility that the coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab". Business Insider. April 6, 2020.
  17. "Trump, aides flirt with China lab coronavirus conspiracy theory". Al Jazeera. April 17, 2020.
  18. Thielking, Megan (February 26, 2020). "Experts warn Trump's misinformation about coronavirus is dangerous". STAT. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  19. "Iran's Khamanei refuses US help to fight coronavirus, citing conspiracy theory". France 24. March 22, 2020.
  20. Friedman, Uri (March 27, 2020). "Bolsonaro Leads the Coronavirus-Denial Movement". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 1, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  21. Waterson, Jim (April 8, 2020). "Influencers among 'key distributors' of coronavirus misinformation". The Guardian. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  22. Knight, Victoria (March 31, 2020). "Covid-19: beware online tests and cures, experts say". The Guardian. Retrieved April 2, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  23. Ferré-Sadurní, Luis; McKinley, Jesse. "Alex Jones Is Told to Stop Selling Sham Anti-Coronavirus Toothpaste". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 14, 2020. Retrieved March 16, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  24. Ghaffary, Shirin; Heilweil, Rebecca (January 31, 2020). "How tech companies are scrambling to deal with coronavirus hoaxes". Vox. Archived from the original on February 8, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020. Unknown parameter |name-list-format= ignored (help)
  25. "[TRANSLATED] Wuhan Pneumonia: "Wuhan Virus Research Institute" in the eyes of the outbreak and fake news storm". BBC News China. February 5, 2020. Archived from the original on February 16, 2020 |archive-url= requires |url= (help). Unknown parameter |9url= ignored (help); Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  26. Katherine Schaeffer (April 8, 2020). "Nearly three-in-ten Americans believe COVID-19 was made in a lab". Pew Research. Retrieved April 17, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  27. David E. Sanger (April 3, 2020). "Pompeo Ties Coronavirus to China Lab, Despite Spy Agencies' Uncertainty". New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  28. Poppy Noor (April 13, 2020). "A third of Americans believe Covid-19 laboratory conspiracy theory – study". The Guardian. Retrieved April 17, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  29. Jon Gambrell. "Iran leader refuses US help, citing virus conspiracy theory". Associated Press.
  30. *University of Sydney (March 26, 2020). "Unlocking the Genetic Code of the Novel Coronavirus: How COVID-19 Made the Leap From Animals to Humans". SciTech Daily. Retrieved March 29, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  31. Kristian G. Anderson; Andrew Rambaut; W. Ian Lipkin; Edward C. Holmes; Robert F. Garry (March 17, 2020). "The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2". Nature Medicine. doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0820-9. Retrieved March 29, 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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