A study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene recently analyzed covid19 related rumors, conspiracy theories, and stigma. These covid19 related conspiracy theories, rumors, and stigma have been in circulation over social media platforms in at least 87 countries and in 25 different languages, and this spread of coronavirus misinformation has led to injuries and deaths, according to the study.
What is a rumor and a stigma? The researchers from many institutions in Australia, Bangladesh, Japan, and Thailand defined a rumor as any information which is unverified and can be found to be fabricated, entirely false, or even true after verification. They defined stigma and conspiracy theories as beliefs about a group or an individual working secretly to reach malicious goals.
The researchers studied 2,311 reports related to coronavirus misinformation from 87 countries in 25 languages and among those reports 3.5% were classified as stigma, 7.8% were classified as conspiracy theories and 89% were classified as rumors. The examples used in the study included “Drinking bleach may end the virus” or ‘coronavirus has contaminated poultry eggs’ were classified as rumors; “ Bill and Melinda Gates have funded the creation of this virus to increase vaccine sales” were classified as conspiracy theories and “Every illness comes from China” was classified as Stigma.
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Most of the conspiracy theories, stigma, and rumors were identified from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Spain, and the United States, the researchers have found. The analysis from the study revealed that 24% of the reports were related to coronavirus illness, transmission and deaths, 19% were related to cures or treatments, 21% were about control efforts, 15% were about the origins of the virus and the cause of the disease, 1% related to violence and 20% were considered as miscellaneous.
In May, a politician in Columbia claimed that doctors were needlessly admitting people into the Intensive Care Units (ICU) for higher payments. Another theory that spread on social media rapidly claimed that doctors are getting extra payment of 17000 dollars for every person who died of coronavirus.
Due to the coronavirus misinformation, health workers who are already facing the physical and emotional adversities of being on the front line, are also being subjected to violence, intimidation, and threats from the same people they are treating and risking their lives for. In India, health workers conducting coronavirus tests were attacked with stones, in the Philippines a hospital worker had bleach poured on his face as he was attacked on the street, and in Russia, health workers were attacked by a mob.
The researchers wrote that the rumors can mask themselves as credible infection control and prevention strategies and can have potentially serious implications if given a priority over guidelines based on evidence. They gave the example of a popular myth that if someone consumes highly concentrated alcohol, his body will be disinfected and the virus would be killed. Some people took fake information being spread on social media seriously which resulted in the death of nearly 800 people hospitalized nearly 6000 people and made 60 people completely blind as they drank methanol thinking of it as a cure for the virus.