As soon as President Trump announced he and his wife Melania had tested positive for Covid-19, disinformation began to spread online.
Among the rumours are claims that the president called the virus a “hoax” and that a military “doomsday plane” was launched because of the news.
Some even speculated – without evidence – that the diagnosis was faked.
Here are the details behind some of claims gaining the most traction online.
Trump did not call Covid-19 a ‘hoax’
President Trump has spread some unproven and false information about Covid-19. But following his positive diagnosis, there are also false rumours circulating about things he didn’t say.
For instance, he never called the virus a “hoax” – contrary to several viral social media posts.
The confusion may have stemmed from rambling remarks way back in February, when he accused Democrats of “politicising the coronavirus” – then talked about his impeachment, calling it a “hoax” and criticism of his handling of Covid-19 “their new hoax.”
The president has at times ignored social distancing and mask-wearing recommendations, and earlier in the year on Twitter he promoted hydroxychloroquine, an unproven coronavirus treatment.
And who can forget when he suggested in April that injecting disinfectant might cure the disease?
While his words were confusing – and while he has at times downplayed the severity of the disease – he didn’t directly call the virus a “hoax”.
A ‘doomsday plane’ was not launched in response to the news
One of the scariest rumours was that a US plane that can deliver commands to nuclear missiles was launched in the wake of the news.
One viral tweet claimed that the E-6B Mercury took off to warn “adversaries” – a show of force to deter a potential attack.
The tweet included an image of a flight path over the east coast of the US, taken from a flight tracking site.
But public flight data shows that E-6B Mercury flights – often called “doomsday planes” – are common, even when the president is well. In fact, they happen about every other day.
The particular plane in question has flown 19 times in the past month.
In a statement, a military spokesman confirmed the E-6B flights were part of planned missions.
He added that “any timing to the president’s announcement was purely coincidental.”
By Marianna Spring, specialist disinformation and social media reporter
Online disinformation spreads fast following big, breaking news events – and this is no exception.
But these particular circumstances make it an especially fertile time for bad info and conspiracy theories.
Confusion and panic in part explain it. A world leader contracting the virus raises lots of questions – and gets a lot of people worried.
The president himself has garnered a reputation for spreading misleading claims about coronavirus and for playing down its severity. And that has provided plenty of grist for his opponents.
On the other hand, fans of President Trump who subscribe to the QAnon movement have their own, very different take on the situation.
They say Trump is “pretending” to have Covid-19 – since many of them believe the pandemic is a hoax – in a bid to trick the so-called “deep state”. There’s no evidence to support any of this.
It’s yet another reminder to all of us: always think about the source of a post on social media. Ask how it makes you feel. And think about people’s motives for sharing something.
There’s no evidence the test result is a ‘fake’
Some opponents of the president were quick to cast suspicion on the diagnosis.
In a long post on Facebook, documentary-maker Michael Moore suggested the president was using the virus to gain public sympathy.
He said: “He needs badly to totally change the conversation about this campaign. And he just has.
“He knows being sick tends to gain one sympathy. He’s not above weaponizing this.”
Others went further, claiming outright – albeit without evidence – that the diagnosis was fake.
And some people suggested the announcement was a move designed to avoid further debates with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
However, there is nothing to suggest that President Trump or the first lady are lying about their results.
The diagnosis is an evaluation carried out by medical professionals and many people will have been involved in the process. Officials at the White House are now involved in a complex and elaborate process of contact tracing, a procedure that a BBC correspondent has witnessed.
As part of this process “core members” of the Trump administration have been tested for the virus, with some tests coming back negative, according to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff.
The president’s positive test means the illness is likely to dominate most of the rest of the election campaign. And as public polls indicate that a majority of Americans are unsatisfied with the president’s response to the pandemic, a focus on Covid-19 would not appear to boost the chances of his re-election.
Written by Kris Bramwell
With reporting by Upasana Bhat, Alistair Coleman, Christopher Giles, and Olga Robinson.