April 10, 2020

President Donald Trump is the most popular politician in the #CoronaVirusFacts database. Since Jan. 24, when fact-checkers  around the world began building a list of falsehoods related to the COVID-19 crisis, Trump’s name has appeared at least 61 times in fact-checks from seven countries outside the United States.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the second-most fact-checks with 22 citations, a third of what Trump has registered so far. Giuseppe Conte (from Italy) and Jair Bolsonaro (from Brazil) are cited 15 and 10 times, respectively.

Trump’s daily press conferences about the coronavirus provide volumes of information for fact-checkers to vet. His casual quotes also often go viral on social media and messaging apps. But all that exposure offers plenty of fodder for international hoaxes as well.

Fact-checking organizations in India, Spain, Paraguay, Brazil, Ghana, Taiwan and in the Middle East have submitted to the database at least 20 fact-checks about Trump. Their articles range from the claims the president has found a cure to claims that he has the virus.

The volume of falsehoods about Trump seems to be increasing. Nine of the 61 global fact-checks about him were published during this past week.

The Quint debunked a claim that went viral in India in late March saying that Trump had attended a Muslim prayer service to protect himself from COVID-19. The hoax used an old video of him attending the National Prayer Service in 2017.

On April 1, Arabic-language fact-checking network Fatabyyano debunked a claim that he had  an Imam pray over him for protection. That hoax used an old photo of Trump in the Oval Office surrounded by evangelical preachers laying hands on him and praying.

Spanish fact-checking networks Maldita.es and Newtral debunked a similar claim — a week apart   — that Trump had announced a Swiss company had developed a cure for COVID-19. Nine of the 20 fact-checks about Trump outside the United States were related to this potential cure.

The hoaxes have also tried to mimic the president’s unique off-the-cuff style. He has been quoted in the United States, India and France as saying: “People are dying who have never died before.”  All fact-checkers confirmed that there is no evidence Trump has ever said that.

Ironically, Former Vice President Joe Biden, like Trump, had been accused of saying a version of  “people who have never died before are now dying.” Politifact reported this  phrase is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but that neither Trump nor Biden had ever said it.

President Trump is not the only U.S politician targeted with multiple hoaxes. In the CoronaVirusFacts database, former President Barack Obama appears 14 times and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate opposing Trump, appears 10 times.

Obama was targeted in the U.S. as well as Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. In those three countries, fact-checking networks Dubawa Ghana, PesaCheck, and Africa Check all debunked a claim that the former U.S. president had warned Africans to reject a vaccine.

Most of Biden’s fact-checks are about claims he’s made about Trump or ones that Trump has made about him. A Biden campaign staffer falsely claimed Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a career official with the Centers for Disease Control, was being silenced. The Washington Post reported that Dr. Messonier, who in a Feb. 25 press call had warned of major disruptions from the coronavirus, was still giving  interviews in the days that followed.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House speaker, is mentioned in five debunked articles. The latest claimed the speaker included the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the stimulus package because her daughter is on the board. Politifact found while Pelosi is an ex officio board member (along with several Republican congressmen), none of Pelosi’s children are on the Kennedy Center’s board.

Falsehoods regarding the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, Vice President Mike Pence and the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have also been caught by fact-checkers in the last month.

While this category of hoaxes in the United States is small compared with hoaxes about fake cures or the virus’s origin, the politicization around COVID-19 has the potential to divert attention from important information put out by organizations like the World Health Organization and the CDC. In the wake of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders exiting the Democratic Party’s presidential primary, there’s a chance this trend could accelerate as the general election approaches in November.


Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. Reach him at hmantas@poynter.org or on Twitter at @HarrisonMantas.

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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