July 30, 2020

The headlines sounded the alarms about a threat from abroad.

The Associated Press: “US officials: Russia behind spread of virus disinformation.” The New York Times: “Russian intelligence agencies push disinformation on pandemic.”

The websites listed in a report about Russian actors spreading coronavirus disinformation have reached thousands of people. But the same day the report came out, Madonna, President Donald Trump and many others shared a debunked video of a press conference that showed a group of physicians airing unproven conspiracies about COVID-19.

There’s a really good chance you saw it on Facebook, where it was viewed more than 20 million times. It illustrates the reach and harm of domestic misinformation surrounding the pandemic.

The press conference was organized by the Tea Party Patriots, a conservative group that is part of a coalition to end state lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina introduced the doctors at the beginning of the video. Breitbart, a conservative news site, recorded the event, which is the latest example of coronavirus misinformation that is packaged as facts to counter more official narratives.

“The vast majority of the mis- and disinformation spreading online is domestic,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told me. “We do it to ourselves, with little or no help from the Russians or Chinese.”

That’s not to say that foreign disinformation operations aren’t a concern, but it’s the amount of reach that matters, not the size of the operation that originally generates the harmful content, Barrett said.

Regardless of the source, “anything that seems sensational or scandalous should be viewed with tremendous skepticism,” he said. And many of the doctors’ claims in the video contradict recommendations from public health organizations and experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

PolitiFact checked out many of the claims in the viral video.

Click here to read the full story.

There is not a cure for COVID-19

Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston-based primary care physician and minister with a track record of making bizarre medical claims, such as believing in alien DNA, claimed in the above video that she did not need a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus because there is a cure. That’s wrong. There is no known cure for COVID-19. And public health officials advise everyone to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus. Read the fact-check»

Tweet claims that taxpayers spent $70 million to develop remdesivir

As excitement about remdesivir amps up, criticism has followed over the price that Gilead Sciences, the drug’s manufacturer, wants to charge for it. Progressive think tank Public Citizen, said in a June 29 tweet, “Taxpayers spent $70,000,000 to develop this drug. It should be in the public domain. Instead, Big Pharma is robbing us blind.” The claim about $70 million is true. Check it out»

Hannity claims the Trump administration has fulfilled every state request for coronavirus supplies

Fox News host Sean Hannity touted President Trump’s coronavirus response, claiming that “this administration has fulfilled every request from every state governor.” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the chair of the National Governors Association, said “it’s obviously not the case” that governors have everything they need. Get the facts»

Did a conspiracy make Florida a coronavirus hotspot?

A viral image shared by a Facebook account called “Stay with Trump,” claimed that the CDC “came out & said they made a mistake in FL and they’ve been counting pneumonia and flu as covid, dropping their # from approx 90,000 to 11,000.” The CDC did not admit making a mistake that resulted in any systematic undercount of coronavirus cases in Florida. Read the fact-check»

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.

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Alex Mahadevan is director of MediaWise at the Poynter Institute. He has taught digital media literacy to thousands of middle and high schoolers, and has…
Alex Mahadevan

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