Dr. Yasmin is the author of “Viral B.S.: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them.” Dr. Spencer is an emergency medicine physician.
NY Times and the Avaaz Report: The news came from a colleague — not a doctor but someone who works in the emergency room and has seen firsthand the devastation caused by the pandemic. “There is a cure for Covid-19,” he said. “It must be true because a doctor friend shared a Facebook post about this cure.”
When confronted with the latest, credible scientific evidence — that there is no cure for Covid-19, that the disease has killed more than 180,000 Americans precisely because we have no effective way of averting death for the millions who are infected — he doubled down. “But I saw it on Facebook,” he said.
In the emergency room and in conversations with the American public through cable news interviews and Op-Eds like this one, we’ve both been working to dissect and debunk the many myths about this new virus, its potential treatments and the possibility of a vaccine. We read the mistruths on our patient’s phones, listen to theories borrowed from internet chat rooms and watch as friends and family scroll through Facebook saying, “Here — it says that this was definitely created in a Chinese laboratory.”
Seven months into the worst pandemic of our lifetime, the virus continues to spread alongside medical myths and health hoaxes. False news is not a new phenomenon, but it has been amplified by social media. A new report about Facebook from Avaaz, a nonprofit advocacy organization that tracks false information, shows how widespread and pervasive this amplification is.
Read more at NY Times and at the real report below, please download that and send to all your hoax spreading friends…
A Major Threat to Public Health
- Executive Summary
- Section 1 – The massive reach of global health misinformation spreading networks
- Section 2 – How health misinformation goes viral
- Section 3 – Introducing the people behind the health infodemic
- Section 4 – How Facebook can quarantine health misinformation
- Appendix – Definitions and Methodology
- Facebook is failing to keep people safe and informed during the pandemic.
- Global health misinformation spreading networks spanning at least five countries generated an estimated 3.8 billion views on Facebook in the last year.
- Health misinformation spreading websites at the heart of the networks peaked at an estimated 460 million views on Facebook in April 2020, just as the global pandemic was escalating around the world.
- Content from the top 10 websites spreading health misinformation had almost four times as many estimated views on Facebook as equivalent content from the websites of 10 leading health institutions, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Only 16% of all health misinformation analysed had a warning label from Facebook. Despite their content being fact-checked, the other 84% of articles and posts sampled in this report remain online without warnings.
- Report reveals top ‘superspreaders’ of health misinformation on Facebook.
- From RealFarmacy, one of the biggest health misinformation spreading websites, to GreenMedInfo, a website that presents health misinformation as science.
- On Facebook, public pages act as one of the main engines for sharing content from websites spreading health misinformation, accounting for 43% of the total estimated views.
- We identified 42 Facebook pages as key drivers of engagement for these top health misinformation spreading websites. They are followed by more than 28 million people and generated an estimated 800 million views.
- There is a two-step solution to quarantine this infodemic that could reduce belief in misinformation by almost 50% and cut its reach by up to 80%.
- Step 1: Correct the Record by providing all users who have seen misinformation with independently fact-checked corrections. This could decrease belief in misinformation by an average of almost 50%.
- Step 2: Detox the Algorithm by downgrading misinformation posts and systematic misinformation actors in users’ News Feeds, decreasing their reach by up to 80%.
- Facebook has yet to effectively apply these solutions at the scale and sophistication needed to defeat this infodemic, despite repeated calls from doctors and health experts to do so.
- Facebook is failing to keep people safe and informed during the pandemic.
Health misinformation is a global public health threat.1 Studies have shown that anti-vaccination communities prosper on Facebook,2 that the social media platform acts as a ‘vector’ for conspiracy beliefs that are hindering people from protecting themselves during the COVID-19 outbreak,3 and that bogus health cures thrive on the social media platform.4
Facebook itself has promised to keep people “safe and informed” about the coronavirus,5 and well before the pandemic, acknowledged that “misleading health content is particularly bad for our community”.6
Until now, however, little has been published about the type of actors pushing health misinformation widely on Facebook and the scope of their reach. This investigation is one of the first to measure the extent to which Facebook’s efforts to combat vaccine and health misinformation on its platform have been successful, both before and during its biggest test yet: the coronavirus pandemic. It finds that even the most ambitious among Facebook’s strategies are falling short of what is needed to effectively protect society.
In this report, Avaaz uncovers global health misinformation spreading networks on Facebook that reached an estimated 3.8 billion views in the last year spanning at least five countries — the United States, the UK, France, Germany, and Italy.7 Many of these networks, made up of both websites and Facebook pages, have spread vaccination and health misinformation on the social media platform for years. However, some did not appear to have had any focus on health until Feb. 2020 when they started covering the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Section 1, we take a closer look at the global health misinformation networks, and show how 82 websites spreading health misinformation racked up views during the COVID-19 pandemic to a peak of 460 million estimated views on Facebook in April 2020. These websites had all been flagged by NewsGuard for repeatedly sharing factually inaccurate information,8 many of them before the pandemic.
We compared this to content from leading health institutions and found that during the month of April, when Facebook was pushing reliable information through the COVID-19 information centre, content from the top 10 websites spreading health misinformation reached four times as many views on Facebook as equivalent content from the websites of 10 leading health institutions,9 such as the WHO and CDC.10
This section also uncovers one of the main engines spreading health misinformation on Facebook: public pages — they account for 43% of all views to the top websites we identified spreading health misinformation on the platform.11 The top 42 Facebook pages alone generated an estimated 800 million views.
The findings in this section bring to the forefront the question of whether or not Facebook’s algorithm amplifies misinformation content and the pages spreading misinformation. The scale at which health misinformation spreading networks appear to have outpaced authoritative health websites, despite the platform’s declared aggressive efforts to moderate and downgrade health misinformation and boost authoritative sources, suggests that Facebook’s moderation tactics are not keeping up with the amplification Facebook’s own algorithm provides to health misinformation content and those spreading it.
In order to assess Facebook’s response to misinformation content spreading on its platform, we analysed a sample set of 174 pieces of health misinformation published by the networks uncovered in this report, and found only 16% of articles and posts analysed contained a warning label from Facebook. And despite their content being fact-checked, the other 84% of articles and posts Avaaz analysed remain online without warnings. Facebook had promised to issue “strong warning labels” for misinformation flagged by fact-checkers and other third party entities.12
In Section 2, we look at the type of content spread by the global health misinformation networks. We also examine how many of these seemingly independent websites and Facebook pages act as networks, republishing each other’s content and translating it across languages to make misinformation content reach the largest possible audience. In this way, they are often able to circumvent Facebook’s fact-checking process.
Some of the most egregious health fakes identified in this report include:
- An article alleging that a global explosion in polio is predominantly caused by vaccines, and that a Bill Gates-backed polio vaccination programme led to the paralysis of almost half a million children in India. This article had an estimated 3.7 million views on Facebook and was labelled ‘false’ by Facebook. However, once websites in the networks republished the article, either entirely or partially, its clones/republications reached an estimated 4.7 million views. The subsequent articles all appear on the platform without false information labels.
- An article that claimed that the American Medical Association was encouraging doctors and US hospitals to overcount COVID-19 deaths had an estimated 160.5 million views — the highest number of views recorded in this investigation.
- Articles containing bogus cures, such as one wrongly implying that the past use of colloidal silver to treat syphilis, tuberculosis or ebola supports its use today as a safe alternative to antibiotics. This article reached an estimated 4.5 million views.
In Section 3 we take a deeper look at some of the most high profile serial health misinformers to better understand their tactics and motives. We cover five case studies:
- Realfarmacy, which had 581 million views in a year, and is on track to become one of the largest health misinformation spreading networks.
- The Truth about Cancer, a family business behind a massive wave of anti-vaccination content and Covid-19 conspiracies.
- GreenMedInfo, a site that misrepresents health misinformation content as academic research.
- Dr. Mercola, a well-known leading figure in the anti-vaccination movement.
- Erin at Health Nut News, a lifestyle influencer and megaphone for the anti-vaccination movement and other conspiracy theories.
Finally, in Section 4 we present a two-step solution to quarantine this infodemic, which research shows could reduce the belief in misinformation by almost 50% and cut its reach by up to 80%:
- Correct the Record: providing all users who have seen misinformation with independently fact-checked corrections, decreasing the belief in the misinformation by an average of almost 50%; and
- Detox the Algorithm: downgrading misinformation posts and systematic misinformation actors in users’ News Feed…
Carol graduated from Riverside White Cross School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and received her diploma as a registered nurse. She attended Bowling Green State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Literature. She attended the University of Toledo, College of Nursing, and received a Master’s of Nursing Science Degree as an Educator.
She has traveled extensively, is a photographer, and writes on medical issues. Carol has three children RJ, Katherine, and Stephen – one daughter-in-law; Katie – two granddaughters; Isabella Marianna and Zoe Olivia – and one grandson, Alexander Paul. She also shares her life with her husband Gordon Duff, many cats, and two rescues.
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MarsB, A vaccine is the only way to protect people against coronavirus. HIV is not passed through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. HIV can be avoided by protected sex, no needle sharing, no contact with someone else’s blood or body fluids. What is being observed by the medical society is that there are several strains of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 illness. Immunity does not seem to be lasting after contracting the virus and since there are several strains someone can get infected with another strain. With COVID-19 there is an increased danger of those with advanced age, with comorbidities such as lung and heart disease, diabetes, obesity are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and die. Neither of these scenarios bodes well for herd immunity because those who would be around to offer the herd immunity would have to have to develop an immunity to COVID-19 and thus not be able to continue to spread the virus. As discussed above, immunity to COVID-19 may not come from having the virus. Then there is the fact that this is a deadly virus to those mentioned above. HIV has its own issues but it’s spread is able to be controlled. COVID-19 easily spreads in the air so anyone in the vicinity of someone with COVID-19 has a good chance of contracting it. Mask wearing, physical distancing, and hand washing will go a long way toward keeping the spread down, but once it is in the air anyone can get it.
No one who responsible for taking care of those with coronavirus would stop successful treatments to “move along” the vaccine process.That is a really stupid thing to say. A vaccine for COVID-19 is the only way to protect the population who has not already been infected with the virus. Once again, hydroxychloroquine can alter the electrical system in some people’s hearts, creating heart arrhythmias (the heart looses its regular beat and blood clots form and those clots travel through the blood stream and lodge in blood vessels supplying oxygen to the brain and other vital organs) which are dangers and can be fatal. COVID-19 causes a hyper-inflammatory process in some people and this in itself leads to increased blood clotting. For hydroxychloroquine to be used safely, that would mean constant observation and EKGs for people taking it. Not an easy/doe able process when hospital space, beds, equipment, and the healthcare workers to monitor these patients are limited due to the numbers of coronavirus cases.
MarsB, Wearing a mask will catch most of the viral droplets and keep you from spreading coronavirus if you have contracted it. Many who are infected do not have symptoms of being ill, but are still passing on the virus…the virus only needs humans to survive. Stop giving it humans and it will phase itself out when it can no longer find hosts to replicate in. Wearing a mask, while indoors in public is not a hardship when you consider the alternative of giving COVID-19 to someone!!!! Keeping at least 6 feet between you and the next person is simple and makes every one safer. Washing hands with soap and water before touching your face. Soap and water hand washing is more effective than using hand sanitizers.
Of course as a lay-person, telling people to put the anti-viral where the virus grows, in the sinus and lungs, by breathing the vapors of ethyl alcohol made for human consumption, is so radical and NOT a recognized practice that it should be censored everyplace I post it.
Washing hands with EA (primary component of all good covid19 “sanitizer”) is a start….breath the vapors into both your sinus and lungs until you have a burn feeling is a logical next step. Put the anti-viral where it grows. The warnings of instant drunkenness are extremely overstated, in my opinion.
Toby, I would hold off on breathing the vapors of ethyl alcohol because I think there is a large chance this will harm the mucous membranes of the sinuses, nose, lungs, and will make it easier for the virus to enter the cells….Our mucous membranes are a line of defense against viruses and bacteria. Here is further information I found…
Breathing the vapors of the ethyl alcohol causes alcohol to rapidly enter the arterial circulation and the brain, but reviews assessing the possible effects of inhaled alcohol in humans is lacking. A comprehensive, systematic literature review was conducted using Google Scholar and PubMed to examine manuscripts studying exposure to inhaled alcohol and measurement of biomarkers (biochemical or functional) associated with alcohol consumption in human participants. Twenty-one publications reported on alcohol inhalation. Fourteen studies examined inhalation of alcohol vapor associated with occupational exposure (e.g., hand sanitizer) in a variety of settings (e.g., naturalistic, laboratory). Six publications measured inhalation of alcohol in a controlled laboratory chamber, and 1 evaluated direct inhalation of an e-cigarette with ethanol-containing “e-liquid.” Some studies have reported that inhalation of alcohol vapor results in measurable biomarkers of acute alcohol exposure, most notably ethyl glucuronide. Despite the lack of significantly elevated blood alcohol concentrations, the behavioral consequences and subjective effects associated with repeated use of devices capable of delivering alcohol vapor are yet to be determined. No studies have focused on vulnerable populations, such as adolescents or individuals with alcohol use disorder, who may be most at risk of problems associated with alcohol inhalation.
Information taken from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28054395/ Alcohol Clin Exp Res
. 2017 Feb;41(2):238-250. doi: 10.1111/acer.13291. Epub 2017 Jan 5. Inhalation of alcohol vapor: Measurements and Implications
I’ve read and re-read the studies that claim instant drunkenness….it doesn’t happen. And can the near pure ethyl alcohol burn some tissue…maybe….if you take it to the extreme. I’ve done it now for about 12 weeks and have felt no symptoms, except a slightly heightened sense of smell and instant recognition of “sanitizer” that claim to have high alcohol content…but don’t.
All of the doom and gloom predictions seem to have the goal of introducing significant quantity of the EA vapors and a major study used steam to carry more.
This prediction of instant drunkenness HAS TO introduce a significant quantity because after 12 weeks breathing the vapors, I have got nothing but a light head for about 20 seconds….and I do that standing up too fast sometimes. Even my skeptic wife takes a good wiff of the EA sanitizer these days. When I see a study that concentrates on low dose for sinus and lung treatment of this covid19, where a clear bias by tea drinking prohibitionists does not stand out as simply wrong or overdosing…. I may believe it. Until then the low dose I have taken is proving the doom and gloom sayers entirely wrong. I’ll continue putting EA in my sinus and lungs and keep reporting on the effects. Thanks for not censoring again.
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