Editor's Note: Our friends at the News Literacy Project have curated examples of rumors and fake news when it comes to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Check out the examples below, and share on Facebook and Twitter to alert your friends.
Coronavirus Viral Rumor Rundown
NO: COVID-19 does not cause pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs). NO:: Holding your breath for 10 seconds is not a reliable test for pulmonary fibrosis — or for COVID-19. YES: Drinking water is generally good for you, and proper hydration is important during treatment for any infection. NO:: Frequently drinking water does not prevent infection from the current strain of coronavirus by washing the virus into your stomach.
Note: Like many viral rumors, this one includes a request to “send and share” this falsehood to “family, friends and everyone.” You should be skeptical of user-generated material that cites sources that are anonymous or unfamiliar, especially if it explicitly asks you to share it widely.
Also note: There are numerous “copy-and-paste” style viral rumors — many of them citing second- or third-hand advice from an authoritative source — circulating via social media, email and text message about the virus.
Also note: There are at least a dozen iterations of this “advice” circulating online, including one that says it is from an “internal message” to the “Stanford Hospital Board.” In a post on March 11, Stanford Health Care debunked this (scroll to the bottom of the webpage).
NO: Dark skin color and higher levels of melanin — the natural pigment that gives human skin and hair its color — do not protect people against infection by SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. NO: People with African ancestry are not “genetically resistant” to this strain of coronavirus. NO: Race and ethnicity do not affect how vulnerable people are to the virus or how quickly they recover from it. YES:This false claim has surfaced on several unreliable websites in recent weeks; it has also made its way onto social media, including YouTube.
Note: One of the most influential amplifiers of this dangerous and false claim is John McAfee, who founded the computer security company McAfee Associates in 1987 and has more than 1 million followers on Twitter.
NO: Neither the initial discovery of these illnesses nor official declarations about them by health authorities align to the years listed in this photo (which is also circulating as a viral copy-and-paste message). YES: Some of these illnesses were active during the years listed, which do correspond to midterm or presidential election years in the United States. NO: The list in the photo doesn’t include “every election year”; midterm elections were held in the United States in 2006.
Note: Another false conspiracy theory claims that the outbreak of COVID-19 “started immediately after impeachment failed.” This is not true. SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in China in late 2019. President Donald Trump was acquitted of two articles of impeachment on Feb. 5, 2020.
NO: The man in the lead photo on this story from the “satirical news” website Viral Cocaine did not “drop dead” on the street in New York City’s borough of Queens. YES: The photos show a man who appears to have collapsed on the sidewalk in Flushing, Queens, on March 3. YES: He was wearing a surgical mask. NO: The incident was not related to COVID-19.
Note: Photos and videos of people who are unwell in public, along with speculation about COVID-19 as the cause, will almost certainly continue to circulate on social media. For example, a man passed out on a train platform in Brussels prompted several bystanders to shoot video of the incident and to speculate that the new strain of coronavirus was the cause:
But as Thomas Mulder, a Dutch journalist and digital forensics investigator, determined in this tweet thread, Belgian transit authorities confirmed that the man was drunk, not sick. Similar rumors about people collapsing in China circulated after the virus was first identified there, but some lack conclusive evidence about their authenticity (which presents challenges for fact-checkers).
Also note: Viral Cocaine contains a number of clear signs that it is not a reliable source of news — for example, its tagline is “when the lie is more entertaining” — but when links from the site are shared online, its “stories” look similar to actual news reports. In addition, because the site features “endless scrolling” (older stories automatically load when the scroll bar reaches the bottom of the page), the “About Us” information in the website’s footer — which states that the site is a “satirical news blog” — can be all but impossible to view. (WARNING: The site contains ads, which generate revenue for its owners each time someone visits one of its pages. Please avoid visiting or driving traffic to this site.)
NO: The COVID-19 test does not cost $3,200. YES: After a Miami hospital tested a man who had developed respiratory symptoms following a recent trip to China (and was found to have the flu, not COVID-19), he received a notice from his health insurance company that the cost of his emergency room visit and his test for the flu — not for COVID-19 — was $3,270. NO: Blood donors are not tested for SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. NO: There have been no reported cases of a respiratory virus, including SARS-CoV-2, being transmitted by blood transfusion, according to the Red Cross.
The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit offering nonpartisan, independent programs that teach students how to know what to trust in the digital age.