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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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