Misinformation about the coronavirus is a pressing threat to public health, and according to researchers at Cornell University who analyzed over 38 million articles about the pandemic published in English-language media around the world, “the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid,” as mentions of Donald Trump “comprised 37.9% of the overall misinformation conversation.”
The study states that when individuals are misled by false assertions about the nature and treatment of Covid-19, they are less likely to follow the advice of medical experts and health officials and, consequently, contribute to the spread of the virus.
The findings of the study, which was published Thursday, identified 11 widespread misinformation/conspiracy-theory subtopics but that media mentions of President Trump made up by far the largest share of what the World Health Organization has termed an “infodemic.”
On April 23, Trump floated the idea of using ultraviolet light to kill Covid-19 (“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” he said), and on April 24, there were more than 30,000 articles in the “miracle cures” category, a roughly 300% spike, with the study determining that Trump drove those increases.
The Cornell study has not yet been peer-reviewed, with one of the authors telling the New York Times that an academic journal was reviewing it, but that the process was lengthy and the study was subsequently withdrawn because the authors felt they had compelling public health information to share.”
“In the absence of treatments or vaccines, honest and consistent messaging is essential,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins and a former principal deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration. “This is what we need to save lives. If it’s not done well, you get far more infections and deaths.”
Other popular, prevalent and baseless conspiracy theories the study tracked were 5G technology having negative health impacts predating the pandemic, conspiracies connecting Bill Gates to the spread of the coronavirus, a 24-minute pseudo-documentary entitled Plandemic, and “generic conspiracy theories mentioning Covid-19 as an intentional population control scheme.” The New York Times characterized the Cornell study as the first comprehensive examination of Covid-19 misinformation in traditional and online media. Of the approximately 38 million articles published from January 1 to May 26 that they analyzed, Cornell researchers determined that more than 1.1 million contained misinformation. “Health protection strategies such as hygiene, sanitation, social distancing, mask wearing, lockdowns and other measures will be less effective if distrust of public health authorities becomes sufficiently widespread to substantially affect public behavior,” the study states.
Last week, President Trump said that he and his administration deserve an “A+” for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, even though more than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, the most deaths of any country. “We’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job—a phenomenal job,” Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends.
20%: The United States accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population, but more than 20% of the deaths reported during the pandemic worldwide have occurred in the U.S.