As Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 dominated global news in June, peddlers of false claims tried to take advantage.
The death of an African American man, George Floyd, in US police custody on May 25 sparked a wave of protest that rolled across that country and on throughout the world during June.
As tensions remained high and turned to violence in some cities, fake news surged across social media. AAP FactCheck examined false claims fed by conspiracy theorists that media coverage of riots and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was an orchestrated distraction from a courtroom loss suffered by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Ms Clinton’s legal team had indeed been in court in June arguing against an order that the former US presidential candidate gave an in-person deposition in the case over her use of a private email server. Ms Clinton wasn’t there though, and no decision on the deposition had been made.
Protests over racial equality led to the targeting of statues of figures historically associated with slavery. In the English city of Bristol a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbour. Many objected to the targeting of statues, with one claim on social media suggesting that “if we wanted to demolish anything built by slaves” the famed pyramids of Egypt would be gone. The problem with that claim, however, is that Egyptologists have already said the workforce on the pyramids weren’t slaves but rather skilled workers assisted by drafted seasonal farm labourers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the accompanying infodemic that has accompanied the virus threw up new attempts at misinformation.
The smartphone tracing apps used by many governments worldwide in an attempt to monitor the spread of COVID-19 raised concerns about privacy and claims of imposed surveillance. The Australian government’s COVIDSafe app, released in April, was voluntary but one false claim spread across social media was that Android phone users were having the app installed on their phone without their permission. The basis of the claim was the presence of something called “COVID-19 Exposure Notifications” in phone settings. Communications experts, along with information published by Google and Apple quickly debunked the claim. Rather than a surreptitious enforced downloading of the app, it was an interface created to allow government apps to work on Android phones. And the Australian COVIDSafe app doesn’t even work with it.
In another effort, anti-vaccination groups shared a claim that a “whistleblower” at a major drug company had revealed a COVID-19 vaccine had not only been developed already but would cause sterility. In a video a UK-based individual claimed to be reading information from “an alleged GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) insider”. The information read out, however, was an almost verbatim match for a 31-year-old review done in India about unrelated anti-fertility vaccine research.