Exploratory study of the hoaxes spread through WhatsApp in Spain to prevent or cure COVID-19

Exploratory study of the hoaxes spread through WhatsApp in Spain to prevent or cure COVID-19

Moreno-Castro C, Vengut-Climent, E; Cano-Orón, L.& Mendoza-Poudereux, I (2020). «Estudio exploratorio de los bulos difundidos por WhatsApp en España para prevenir o curar la COVID-19». Gaceta Sanitaria 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gaceta.202

Objective

To review the hoaxes’ characteristics spread through WhatsApp in Spain during COVID-19 lockdown and identify what kind of substances were promoted for consumption or application.

Method

A phone number was activated to receive hoaxes via WhatsApp. A total of 2353 messages were collected, and among those 584 different hoaxes were identified and validated, between March 18 and April 18, 2020. From these 584 hoaxes, a sub-sample of 126 was selected, exclusively related to the object of study, and a content analysis table with fourteen registration fields was applied. Besides, the averages and medians of the quantitative fields were extracted.

Results

Most of the messages received were texts (39%) and videos (30%). In the majority, the acting subject was presented as medical personnel (36.5%) or as an anonymous person (30.9%). The videos lasted between 2’ 40” and 18’ 18”, while the audios ranged between 1’ 35” and 7’ 48”. Regarding the gender of the informant, there was a significant difference, with 45.2% being male, and 13.5%, female and 41.3% non-identifiable.

Conclusions

One out of five false health claims received was about prevention or cure of the coronavirus, based on the principle of medical authority, and basically promoting the use and consumption of substances of natural origin.

Keywords

Hoaxes, health, prevention, cure, COVID-19, misinformation, WhatsApp

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