February 27, 2020

Let’s make it very clear: There is no scientific data to support claims that a certain race or religion makes you stronger or weaker against coronavirus 2019.

So if you see a post on Facebook or Instagram, a video on YouTube, a message chain of WhatsApp or Line, or a tweet with that kind of “fact,” consider yourself in front of false information.

All races are equally likely to be infected. The same goes for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists and those who believe in all other religions. They are equally protected — or unprotected — against the disease that has already killed more than 2,700 people.

The alert becomes vital these days because the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus alliance, which brings together 90 fact-checkers from 39 countries under the coordination of the International Fact-Checking Network, has identified a series of falsehoods with this profile.

Among the 558 fact-checks already published by the project, there are several that try to demonstrate that race and religion do not influence the likelihood of contamination. This means that false news producers are working hard in the opposite way.

On Feb. 19, for example, fact-checkers from Taiwan Fact-Check Center found viral claims on Facebook and Line about a scientific study that “proved” how East Asians were more likely to become infected with the new coronavirus than other Asians because they have four to five times more ACE-2 receptors. That is false. The study was published in 2005 and referred to the Severe Syndrome Acute Respiratory (SARS) -— not COVID-19.

Fact-checkers from Dubawa in Nigeria published an article demonstrating that there is no scientific evidence that black skin and/or blood aren’t resistant to the coronavirus 2019. In Nigeria, Twitter was filled with the “information” that subsaharianos (those living in the areas of Africa below the Sahara Desert) had been blessed and that they would be strong enough to face the new disease. False, too. In its fact-check, Dubawa makes it clear that the World Health Organization says that anyone can get the coronavirus if they approach another contaminated person.

False news about religion has also demanded fact-checkers’ attention. Religion is not a way to protect yourself against the new disease.

In three countries — India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia — social media platforms hosted various videos allegedly showing Chinese or Asian people converting to Islam after “realizing that Muslims were not being infected with the coronavirus 2019.” False.

Videos verified by Newschecker.in in India, Fact Crescendo in Sri Lanka, and Tempo and AFP in Indonesia are edited versions of the same recording made in Saudi Arabia in May 2019  — seven months before the start of the coronavirus outbreak. And Muslims are getting infected.

But in countries with large Muslim populations, this kind of content gains traction and spreads fast — something that concerns not only fact-checkers but also health authorities.

These beliefs can keep infected people away from real treatment, and those who are at risk of contamination far from preventative measures, promoting real harm.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States says that anyone can be infected with the coronavirus 2019. Those who want to avoid the disease should not approach another contaminated person should not have contact with their saliva, cough or mucus; and should not share objects or surfaces.

Race or religion have no influence.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.


Read the reports published by the #CoronaVirusFacts collaboration project

Report # 1 (published Jan. 28): Coronavirus: Fact-checkers from 30 countries are fighting 3 waves of misinformation 

Report # 2 (published Jan. 30): Photos and videos allegedly showing the coronavirus are now challenging fact-checkers 

Report # 3 (published Feb. 3): Panic and fear might be limiting human reasoning and fueling hoaxes about coronavirus

Report # 4 (published Feb. 6): Google, Facebook and Twitter could do more to surface fact-checks about the coronavirus

Report # 5 (published Feb. 13): These are false cures and fake preventative measures against coronavirus. Help fact-checkers spread the word

Report # 6 (published Feb. 20): Hoaxes about the coronavirus are now trying to prove human extermination


* 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.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

More News

Back to News