As the COVID-19 pandemic entered its second month in April, misinformation about false causes and false cures of infection continued to swirl on social media.
With AAP FactCheck now working in New Zealand as well as Australia, the FactCheck team saw some common patterns, in particular false or unsubstantiated claims seeking to link COVID-19 to emerging 5G telecommunications networks. Such claims have continued despite previous examples being debunked. Among claims checked was that a 5G tower had been “put up overnight … under cover of darkness” in Beaconsfield, Victoria. A check on Google maps showed the tower had been there since at least August, 2019.
Anti-5G activists also sought to represent a video shot in Hong Kong in August 2019 as being of supposed 5G protests in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. The video was shot during protests in Hong Kong about proposed laws to allow extradition to mainland China. Another post claimed a photo showed a phone tower being burned down in New Zealand, despite the image being from a video posted by a Hungarian Youtube user in 2019.
Also surfacing during April was a video from an anti-vaccination activist who claimed, among other things, that viruses cannot be caught and instead are created inside the body - a claim quickly debunked by a medical expert.
Claims related to fake cures have also continued. International attention focused on anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine during April, boosted by US President Donald Trump’s description of hydroxychloroquine as a potential “game changer”. Opportunists on Instagram sought to cash in by claiming, falsely, that chloroquine was made from the powdered bark from the Cinchona tree. While anti-malarial drug quinine has been made from Cinchona bark for centuries, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are synthetic drugs made in a lab.
Beyond the opportunistic claims there was also an attempt to claim that hand sanitiser could harm pets because it supposedly contained a chemical used in car anti-freeze. Not only does hand sanitiser not contain ethylene glycol, the debunked post referred to “ethanol glycol”, a chemical that does not exist.
Australia and New Zealand’s experience continues to be much the same as elsewhere around the world. AAP FactCheck is part of the IFCN CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, a group of fact-checking organisations working in more than 70 countries. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began the alliance has conducted more than 3,500 checks in more than 40 languages, with more checks added daily.