February 13, 2020

In the midst of a health crisis such as the one generated by the coronavirus 2019, those who have correct information on how to avoid contagion and how to take care of an eventual contamination are more protected.

But in the world of false news, it’s getting increasingly difficult to be well-informed.

Over the past three weeks, the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus alliance, which brings together more than 90 fact-checkers from 39 countries under the coordination of the International Fact-Checking Network, has published a total of 398 checks about the lethal virus. In this list, there are dozens of fact-checks about false ways to prevent and/or cure the coronavirus 2019.

The risk associated with these pieces of content is alarming. A brief analysis of the articles published by the fact-checkers since Jan. 24, when the collaborative work began, makes it clear that falsehoods about cures and means of prevention are still very popular on the internet.

On Jan. 28, for example, PolitiFact published a fact-check warning its audience that, contrary to what was being said on Twitter, drinking chlorine dioxide (or bleach) did not cure coronavirus. In reality, that was dangerous and could even “generate life-threatening side effects.”

Fourteen days later, the madness of suggesting that someone with coronavirus should drink bleach was still loose on social networks in the United States. FactCheck.org‘s team published a long article explaining that swallowing that liquid could cause “nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration.”

On the same day, however, The Daily Beast published a long report informing that the same falsehood was being spread on YouTube, by the hand of influencers. Can that be any more dangerous?

Vitamin C is also not able to prevent contamination by the new coronavirus. On Jan. 25, BoomLive in India alerted other fact-checkers about this falsehood being shared on Facebook.

Four days later, the same lie arrived in Brazil, proving popular in WhatsApp chains. Aos Fatos reported that the World Health Organization says on its website that taking vitamin C is not recommended as a way to prevent coronavirus. It is actually dangerous, just like smoking and taking antibiotics without a prescription.

In Italy and Taiwan, news about handwashing products went viral. Pagella Politica even had to contact the manufacturer of a hand gel and write an article explaining that the product, created in 2010, couldn’t be effective against the type of coronavirus that emerged in December.

Taiwan Fact-Check Center classified as false a post that tried to sell to people a product with “natural enzymes” to wash their hands, noses and vegetables. It was being sold as a way to avoid the lethal virus.

In the list of almost 400 fact-checks published so far by the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus alliance, “news” about possible cures are also very scary. And it is amazing how popular they can become.

Let’s be clear that Romania hasn’t developed a vaccine capable of killing the coronavirus in white citizens. Lead Stories has already debunked this. It is also false that JKUAT University, in Kenya, has managed to find the right coronavirus 2019 vaccine. PesaCheck verified it.

Posts that suggest garlic soup, raw garlic or water boiled with garlic can cure the new disease are super false. And it is terrifying to see how this information is circulating all over the world.

JTBC News in Korea caught this falsehood Jan. 30. On Feb. 7, Dubawa saw it in Ghana. Three days later, Vishvasnews published an article rating this information as false in India. And, since then, it has popped up in many other regions of the planet.

According to the WHO, “garlic is healthy food and has antimicrobial properties. But there is no evidence that eating it has protected someone against the new coronavirus.”

Finally, there is no scientific evidence about the use of cannabis or cow’s urine as a way to annihilate the coronavirus 2019. The Quint and Newschecker wrote good stories to explain why.

Follow #CoronaVirusFacts on Twitter to get the latest posts published by the alliance.


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

* 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.

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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

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  • I am unable to find where in the cited Aos Fatos article the claim that “World Health Organization says on its website that taking vitamin C is not recommended as a way to prevent coronavirus. It is actually dangerous, just like smoking and taking antibiotics without a prescription” Would you please clarify? Thanks so much in advance.

      • This article misquotes the World Health Organization website as saying:
        “Vitamin C is dangerous, just like smoking and taking antibiotics without a prescription.”
        The WHO website did not claim any such thing. On the WHO website question and answers section, they advise people against taking measures such as…(and here they lump together taking vitamin C, smoking and self-medicating on herbs antibiotics). So when it states that the listed measures can be harmful it is accurate in the case of smoking and self-medicating on antibiotics.
        Vitamin C, on the other hand, has been shown to be extremely safe by the medical literature. The WHO website says that the listed measures are not effective at protecting yourself against the virus. This is untrue. Unlike smoking and self-medicating on herbs or antibiotics, vitamin C is extremely effective in treating pneumonia – the primary cause of deaths from all types of coronaviruses. The medical literature is robust and clear on this. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28353648

        • Let’s be very clear about vitamin C.

          1.This article does slightly misquote what the WHO says, which is that vitamin C *can* be dangerous, just like smoking and self-medicating with antibiotics. The point here is that people should not start taking vitamin C with the belief that this alone will protect them from contracting the coronavirus.

          2.Charles, the abstract you linked to does not show that “the medical literature is robust and clear” about vitamin C being “extremely effective in treating pneumonia.” Rather, it mentions various studies giving conflicting results, stating that “the role of vitamin C in common cold [the most extensively studied human infection] treatment is unclear” and concluding that “the effects of vitamin C against infections should be investigated further.”