As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It – The New York Times

by | Dec 28, 2022 | COVID-19

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter“Pre-Covid, people who believed in medical misinformation were generally just t …

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