We identified that one in five hoaxes about COVID-19, sent via WhatsApp, promoted the use and consumption of substances of natural origin
An investigation published in Gaceta Sanitaria by the ScienceFlows team confirms the COVID-19 infodemic in Spain and concludes that “approximately an average of four hoaxes were sent daily about direct actions on people’s health. One of the possible reasons why these hoaxes were spread was because of the appeal of the messages, because of the home use strategies and because the medical authority criteria was used in the dissemination of the hoaxes”.
No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented spread of disinformation. In fact, the main mobile phone operators in Spain warned during the first weeks of the State of Alarm that the data traffic in instant messaging multiplied by five.
In order to find out the characteristics of the hoaxes that were spread about COVID-19, the ScienceFlows research team set up a telephone number on March 18 for citizens to voluntarily send the hoaxes received.
Thus, the study has verified how the only topic of 50.8% of the hoaxes was the cure of the coronavirus. In addition, most of the hoaxes encouraged the consumption of some type of substance to prevent or cure COVID-19. Among these rumours, more than half (58.9%) proposed the consumption of substances of natural origin (water with lemon, ginger) and 32.1% promoted the consumption of substances of synthetic origin (such as drugs).
Regarding the natural remedies promoted through messaging, such as drinking hot beverages or lemon, they consider that, although they should not be dangerous per se, they can become so since they promote confidence in the therapeutic use of an infusion or of a maceration preparation for certain products while COVID-19 progresses, and that when a medical centre is visited, the situation could be particularly serious. Likewise, the four researchers claim that some of the disseminated hoaxes could cause the aggravation of the saturation of health systems due to the collateral effects derived from the use or implementation of some of their recommendations.
Media impact of the research
The article can be accessed here.
Translation. Amaia Crespo