It is time to not only question what politicians say but also what is said about them

April 9, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

The politicization around the new coronavirus is dangerous and growing, dragging down reputations.

Among the falsehoods that fact-checkers have detected around the world regarding COVID-19, there are many cases of politicians spreading mis/disinformation — but also plenty of hoaxes about them.

Of the 3,000 fact-checks published by the DatosCoronaVirus Alliance since Jan. 24, at least 392 (or 13 percent) have been classified by the International Fact-Checking Network, which coordinates this global effort, as “related to public authorities.”

Of those 392 checks, 56 (or 14 percent) were added to the collection in the past week, giving a clear sign that the political game has found fertile soil among the coronavirus falsehoods.

In Spain, where the virus has killed nearly 15,000 people, fact-checkers have detected falsehoods that were created to attack the reputation of national politicians — in different parties.

Maldita.es detected a false series of tweets that accused Santiago Abascal, the general-secretary of the ultra-right party VOX, of having ignored his quarantine to be at the Parliament.

The same team also published a fact-check saying that the former president, Mariano Rajoy, from the center-right party Partido Popular, had not criticized the elderly by saying they had “lived too well so far.”

Newtral, also from Spain, proved that a viral photo showing Vice President Pablo Igleias, a member of the far-left party Podemos, visiting his father in a hospital was actually old and had nothing to do with COVID-19. And the former mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, didn’t receive respiratory equipment in her house, as spread on Twitter.

In Mexico, Animal Político has identified several falsehoods about President Manuel Lopes Obrador. Among them was a YouTube video that also went viral on Facebook and WhatsApp saying that López Obrador had tested positive for coronavirus. Not true.

Fact-checkers in Brazil have found several hoaxes attacking governors and congressmen on social media and messaging apps.

In a curious case, a message chain on WhatsApp wrongly identified a deputy who was arrested for fighting at a party. Agência Lupa published a fact-check explaining that deputy Gustavo Schmidt is affiliated with the PSL (President Jair Bolsonaro’s former party)  and not from PSOL, the opposition.

Discrediting entities is also trending. In the database of the DatosCoronaVirus alliance, until April 7, dozens of allegations about the World Health Organization and UNICEF ​​were proven false.

More than two months ago, Brazilian Aos Fatos published an article saying that WHO did not send an alert recommending people avoid unprotected sex with animals. AFP, in India, denied on April 3 that the WHO said people shouldn’t eat cabbage.

Misbar, in the Middle East, identified a report being falsely attributed to UNICEF. The document had incorrect information on how to prevent COVID-19. And the Observer, in Portugal, highlighted recently that it is false that UNICEF advises against having ice cream during the pandemic. They surely have much more work to do.

So those who have doubted whatever politicians say must now increase their awareness of what is actually accurate. The new coronavirus pandemic can’t be used as a way to discredit government leaders – especially if it is wrong.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

Read the reports published by the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

Coronavirus collaboration: The collaborative project, coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network, was launched Jan. 24 and will be active for as long as the lethal disease spreads worldwide. Fact-checkers are using a shared Google Sheet and a Slack channel to share content and communicate in different time zones. Follow #CoronaVirusFacts and #DatosCoronaVirus on social media for the latest updates.