The researchers from Oxford University have reported that 25% of British citizens find online conspiracy theories about coronavirus to be true. Considering that there is no bank link to trace the roots of coronavirus, the fake coronavirus news on its origin is extremely popular over the internet.
This research was completed by the Oxford Internet Institute and it found that any unauthentic and possibly fake coronavirus news and an original news report from BBC share an equal distribution online.
Professor Philip Howard, director of the Internet institute shared that the misinformation on this coronavirus pandemic is created by many state-owned agencies based in countries like Russia and China. He also added that the biggest target for these conspiracy theories is the UK and the USA.
While addressing to the Commons Digital Committee, Prof. Howard said: “In the past couple of weeks we’ve learned misinformation reaches a billion social media user accounts around the world and much of this content is generated by state-run agencies. And much of it, almost all of it is in English. So it’s targeted at people in the UK, people in the US, English language users.”
As to him, it is extremely hard to assess the popularity and success of these propaganda-based campaigns. A recent study at the Reuters Institute of Oxford University found that nearly 25% of British people actually believe that this is not a natural virus and was genetically made in a lab of Wuhan. They also believe that it was spread in the public, on purpose and many of them find it the modern warfare technique.
The purpose of China right now is to prevent this virus from being called or labeled as the “Wuhan virus”. For that, they are doing everything, from conducting researches to thousands of social media accounts taking an account on coronavirus related information on public forums.
Howard also explained that all of these themes seem to affect the public’s trust in government and public organizations. When a common person reads these fake coronavirus news online, which contradicts the official statements, it makes him question the leadership and government’s interest.
First Draft News is an organization that works against the fake news circulating online. Claire Wardle is a co-founder of this organization and she told the same digital committee that the online conspiracy theories are popular because people want to know what’s going around them.
She also shared that while it looks “easy” to disregard all of these conspiracies but it is necessary to identify that why are this fake coronavirus news circulating on social media. There is no believable story about where this virus came from and the fact that researchers have no information on its origin and spread is making these conspiracy theories popular. The reason why people believe them is because they represent a powerful narrative on what might have happened, so yes, believing them by mass readers makes sense.
She also told the committee that people are desperate to know what are they going through and what put them at risk. Conspiracy theories provide them a good reason to understand all this, which is why they are being circulated probably more than the authentic reports.
But it is important to realize that false information and especially fake coronavirus news could ruin lives. As the virus is deadly and has confined people to home, the perfect engaging content can link people to discuss democracy, finance, policies, healthcare, and personal safety of citizens.
Full Fact is an independent online, fact-checking organization that lets users find answers on coronavirus pandemic. Within three weeks of its launch, it has reported more than 2000 responses. It has urged internet companies to adopt a transparent route while reporting false or misleading information on their platforms.