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Why is Covid-19 the "Super Bowl of disinformation"?

Why is Covid-19 the "Super Bowl of disinformation"?

Did you know that COVID-19 is caused by 5G networks? Were you aware that you can cure it with a hairdryer, cow urine, or a certain drug that isn't fully FDA-approved yet?

None of these things is true, and yet each has untold millions of believers around the world. They are part of a vast squall of conspiracy theories, scams, and disinformation about the virus that is churning through the internet and social media platforms right now.


The UN and World Health Organization have called this an "infodemic," which is spreading alongside the pandemic, complicating efforts to slow and treat the spread of COVID-19. They've even published this handy myth-buster (spoiler: drinking alcohol doesn't kill the virus, no matter what the President of Belarus says.)

This is a deadly problem. When disinformation distorts people's perceptions ahead of an election, it's bad. But when it gives people false information about a deadly disease, it can kill them.

There are a few kinds of false info floating around out there.

Quack cures from the depths of the internet. These "miracle stories" spread like wildfire, warping people's understanding of what they need to do to avoid or treat COVID-19. Some of these theories are picked up by the most powerful people in the world. US President Donald Trump's embrace of hydroxocholoroquine as a coronavirus miracle cure, despite its lack of clinical trials, has caused panic buying and shortages of a drug that millions of non-COVID patients with weak immune systems need in order to stay alive. And the drug may have some nasty side-effects.

Political or geopolitically motivated disinformation. Earlier this year, some US and Chinese officials, for example, took turns accusing each other's governments – with no evidence – of having bioengineered the coronavirus pandemic. Iranian officials have also blamed Washington, as have Russian state TV channels.

Trolling for trouble. There are also people out there who are spreading disinformation in order to stir up social or racial tensions – white supremacists have been particularly active in this respect.

Given the extent of all this false information and the human stakes involved, the coronavirus is the "Super Bowl of disinformation," according to Danny Rogers, co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, a non-profit that tracks and flags malicious disinformation and scams.

The fact that government officials are playing this game is particularly dangerous, he says, because those are precisely the people we want and need to trust at a moment like this.

Social media platforms are struggling to keep up. On the plus side, stamping out clearly false information about coronavirus is an easier call to make than, say, policing political ads or content, and the platforms have been taking action. Prominent cases include Google booting conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Twitter erasing quack cure tweets from former NYC mayor and Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, or Facebook taking down two videos by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro that disputed the need for social distancing. The messaging platform WhatsApp, for its part, has restricted users' ability to forward posts, a blanket measure meant to flatten the curve of disinformation's spread.

But it's still a game of whack-a-mole, Rogers says. The wave of false information is simply too gigantic, and the demand for information that is comforting or reassuring, irrespective of whether it's true, is simply too great.

So, if this is the Super Bowl of disinformation, who's going to win the Vince Lombardi trophy?

You can watch our full interview with Danny Rogers of the Global Disinformation Index here.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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