Culture

Misinformation 'super-spreaders' peddling COVID-19 lies are thriving on Twitter

Despite all talk about fixing the platform's potential for disinformation, Twitter continues to lag behind.

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COVID-19 misinformation continues to thrive on Twitter. In a scathing report by the news reliability checker NewsGuard, researchers say that the platform is failing to provide proper strategies against big-name accounts with pseudoscientific claims and conspiracy theories.

These accounts, with at least 100,000 followers each, are COVID-19 fake news "super-spreaders," NewsGuard warns. And if Jack Dorsey's platform doesn't tackle the inaccuracies and hoaxes in these tweets, the company's announcements about COVID-19 information continuity plans will ring terribly hollow.

Here are some of the COVID-19 'super-spreaders' — From a former Nigerian politician, ex-British football player to a conservative radio commentator and QAnon conspiracy theory accounts, NewsGuard's list of accounts that it says are spreading COVID-19 fake news is a rather unsettling one. Here are the names that it lists in its report:

  • Femi Fani-Kayode, previously a Nigerian politician, with 955,412 followers. NewsGuard found Fani-Kayode has been spreading unsubstantiated claims about 5G technology causing the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Bill Mitchell, a conservative radio commentator with 579,913 followers, has been peddling QAnon conspiracy theories about non-existent COVID-19 vaccines carrying microchip trackers. In addition to being one of the accounts that has pushed COVID-19 conspiracies about Bill Gates, Mitchell has also linked to false claims about the drug hydroxychloroquine curing the coronavirus.
  • Another account is Deep State Exposed, a popular profile among QAnon conspiracy theorists, and run by Jeremy Stone. This account has also pushed false claims about microchip tracking devices inside COVID-19 vaccines as well as 5G technology hoaxes.
  • Other accounts belong to former British football player David Icke, "alt-medicine" advocate Joseph Mercola, conservative commentator Melissa A., QAnon conspiracy followers Jordan Sather, Martin Geddes, CJTruth, and Organic Lifestyle Magazine.

Come on, Dorsey — On March 16, just when lockdowns and quarantining measures were taking off, Twitter released its own continuity strategy for COVID-19 information. It claimed that it would ramp up machine learning and automation to tackle manipulative and false content on the virus. It also added that it would bolster its human reviews checking system to encourage a healthy conversation on the coronavirus.

Maybe the platform should focus less on creating pedantic alerts around strongly-worded tweets, guessing your gender to target you with ads, and more on verifying medical experts and increasing moderation guardrails for false COVID-19 claims. Just a thought.