Along with news that President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, one study shows that he has been the leading cause of the spread of misinformation surrounding the pandemic. The recent Cornell University research analysis parsed through more than 38 million English-written articles, including coverage of breaking news, conspiracies theories, and reports on false information, and found that Trump misinformation was the single “largest driver” of the “infodemic.”
In September, the World Health Organization declared that the spread of misinformation, or the “infodemic,” is one of the leading causes in undermining the global response to the pandemic, ultimately jeopardizing control over stopping COVID-19’s spread. It stated that while “technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed, productive and connected,” the technology “we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic…”
According to the New York Times, the study marks the first comprehensive analysis of coronavirus misinformation in news and digital media of such magnitude. By analyzing reporting trends and tracking falsehood sthroughout widespread coverage, researchers were able to conclude that more than 1 million articles among the 38 million published between January and late May contained misinformation.
The study tracked up to 11 different topics of misinformation according to the Independent, including theories that COVID-19’s initial outbreak was linked to the consumption of bat soup in Wuhan, China, and the belief that the pandemic was doctored up by Democrats to hurt Trump politically.
Further, the study found the most dominating—and perhaps most disturbing—spread of Trump misinformation had to do with a set of “miracle cures” supported by the president, who said that disinfectants like bleach may cure the coronavirus. The Independent noted that after Trump proposed the idea, the number of articles under “miracle cures” increased by more 20,000 within a day, deducing that Trump was the cause of the influx in reportage.
The implication of Trump’s influence in this regard is daunting for both public health officials and the public. One key finding of the study stated 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,” Forbes wrote.
“That’s concerning in that there are real-world dire health implications,” Sarah Evanega, the director of the Cornell Alliance for Science and the study’s lead author, told the New York Times.
“Unwittingly or unintentionally, media do play a major role in disseminating misinformation because they amplify the voices of prominent people, even if those sources are incorrect,” Evanega noted in the Alliance for Science. “It’s important that media give prominence to genuine experts and representatives of scientific institutions.”
View the study in full here.