COVID-19 Disinformation Briefing No.3

COVID-19 Disinformation Briefing No.3 – 12th May 2020

ISD released a pioneering investigation with BBC Click, mapping the scale and nature of online disinformation around COVID-19 in the US, as well as its co-option by far right actors. The investigation was featured on BBC World’s Click programme, as well as on the BBC News website.

ISD researchers found that 34 known disinformation-hosting websites gathered the staggeringly high volume of 80 million interactions on public Facebook between January and April, 2020. For context, in the same time period, posts linking to the WHO’s website received 6.2 million interactions, with the website of the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) receiving 6.4 million interactions through posts on public Facebook.

Our analysis – which revealed hundreds of thousands of far right posts around COVID-19 and millions of engagements with known disinformation sites – provides an important evidence base for understanding how extremist groups, disinformation actors and fringe medical communities are working to exploit the pandemic online, and highlights a marked increase in conversations within far right circles about so-called ‘elites’ including Bill Gates, George Soros, the Rothschilds and Jeff Bezos and false information about their role in the creation or spread of the virus. The conversations monitored by ISD researchers referenced the virus as a tool of social control, a purposeful plot to kill off certain populations, or a means to make money for these individuals and their institutions, all of which are unfounded claims.

ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit is working on an ongoing basis to expose and analyse hateful disinformation campaigns around COVID-19 and more broadly in the run up to the US 2020 election, informing grassroots and policy responses. Our research will continue to track how disinformation and weaponised hate is being used during the election to marginalise communities, push divisive narratives and undermine democracy, using a mix of data analytics, OSINT research and policy analysis.

Summarised in this briefing paper are the methodologies utilised by ISD researchers for this investigation, and the key findings of the research.

Disinformation briefing: Narratives around Black Lives Matter and voter fraud

This short briefing details the methodology and key findings of a study conducted jointly by the ISD team and Politico. Leveraging data from across social media platforms, this investigation seeks to understand online discussions around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the issue of voter fraud ahead of the US Presidential election. The research was designed to shed light on the volume and nature of disinformation related to these two issues online and how this disinformation may be weaponised to attempt to influence attitudes ahead of the election.

QAnon and Conspiracy Beliefs

The findings from this study provide important context for understanding the relationship between QAnon and the broader problem of conspiracy theory beliefs. A majority of Americans know nothing about QAnon and fewer than one-in-ten have a favorable view toward it; yet, a majority of those who recognize and believe in QAnon conspiracy theories are not QAnon supporters (most said they had not even heard of QAnon).

Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media

This briefing paper examines the extent to which Holocaust denial content is readily accessible across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube. This paper also demonstrates how appropriately applied content moderation policies can be effective in denying dangerous conspiracy theorists a public platform by examining how Holocaust denial content has decreased significantly in the past year on YouTube.