Virus Misinformation Spikes as Delta Cases Surge

In the past few weeks, the vast majority of the most heavily engaged social media posts with misinformation about the coronavirus came from people who came to light last year through questioning the vaccines.

In July, right-wing commentator Candace Owens jumped on the false testimony of the British scientific advisor. “That’s shocking!” She wrote. “60% of people hospitalized in England with # COVID19 have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the government’s chief scientific adviser.”

After scientific advisor Patrick Vallance corrected himself, Ms. Owens added the correct information to the bottom of her Facebook post. But the post was liked or shared over 62,000 times in the three hours leading up to its update – two-thirds of the total interactions – according to an analysis by the New York Times. In total, the rumor garnered 142,000 likes and shares on Facebook, most of them from Ms. Owens’ post, according to a report by the Virality Project, a consortium of misinformation researchers from institutions like Stanford Internet Observatory and Graphika.

When asked to comment, Ms. Owens said in an email, “I’m sorry, I’m not interested in the New York Times. The people who follow me don’t take your hits seriously. “

Updated

Aug 10, 2021, 5:26 p.m. ET

Also in July, lawyer Thomas Renz appeared in a video claiming 45,000 people had died from coronavirus vaccines. The claim that has been debunked is based on unconfirmed information from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a government database. The unsubstantiated claim was included in a lawsuit Mr. Renz filed on behalf of an anonymous “whistleblower” in coordination with America’s Frontline Doctors – a right-wing group that has historically spread misinformation about the pandemic.

Mr. Renz’s video has more than 19,000 views on Bitchute. The unsubstantiated claim was repeated by the leading Spanish-speaking Telegram channels, Facebook groups and the conspiracy website Infowars, and it garnered over 120,000 views on the platforms, according to the Virality Project.

In an email, Mr. Renz said his practice “performed the necessary due diligence” to believe the accuracy of the allegations in the lawsuit he filed. “We do not actually believe that the Biden administration is responsible, rather we believe that President Biden, like President Trump before him, was misled by the same group of contradicting bureaucrats,” said Renz.

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