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On December 29, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that often spreads conspiracy theories, published an article falsely suggesting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had revoked approval for all PCR tests to detect Covid-19. The article got 22,000 likes, comments and shares on Facebook and Twitter.
On TikTok and Instagram, videos of home Covid-19 tests showing positive results after soaking in drinking water and juice have gone viral in recent weeks and have been used to promote the false narrative that rapid coronavirus tests don’t work. Some household fluids may test positive, health experts say, but the tests remain accurate when used as directed. One TikTok video showing a positive home test result after being placed under running water has been shared at least 140,000 times.
And on YouTube on January 1, Canadian far-right website Rebel News posted a video titled “Rapid antigen tests debunked.” It garnered over 40,000 views and its comment section was a hotbed of misinformation. “The direct goal of this test is to keep the case number as high as possible to keep the fear and incentive for more restrictions,” reads one comment, which has more than 200 likes. “And, of course, profit.”
The amount of misinformation about Covid-19 tests has skyrocketed on social media in recent weeks, researchers say, as coronavirus cases have risen again globally due to a highly infectious variant of Omicron.
A surge in misinformation threatens to further undermine the public’s efforts to keep the health crisis under control. Previous outbursts of pandemic-related lies have been about vaccines, masks, and the severity of the virus. Lies are helping to undermine best practices in fighting the spread of the coronavirus, health experts say, noting that misinformation remains a key factor in vaccine hesitancy.
Categories include lying about PCR tests not working; that the influenza and Covid-19 case counts have been combined; that PCR tests are vaccines in disguise; and that home rapid tests are predetermined or unreliable because different fluids can make them positive.
According to Zignal Labs, which tracks mentions across social media, cable TV, print and online publications, these topics have been mentioned by the thousands in the last three months of 2021, compared to a few dozen in the same period in 2020. outlets.
The additional demand for testing due to Omicron and the higher prevalence of breakout cases have given disinformation spreaders “an opportune moment” to take advantage of it, said Colina Koltay, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. False narratives “support the whole idea of not trusting infection numbers or trusting deaths,” she said.
The Gateway Pundit did not respond to a request for comment. TikTok pointed to its policy banning misinformation that could harm people’s physical health. YouTube said it was reviewing videos posted by The New York Times in accordance with its Covid-19 disinformation policy regarding testing and diagnosis. Twitter said it applied a warning to The Gateway Pundit article in December for violating it. coronavirus disinformation policy and that tweets containing false information about widespread testing practices would also violate his policy. But the company said it was taking no action to personal anecdotes.
Facebook said it worked with its fact-checking partners to flag many posts with warnings that directed people to fact-check false claims and reduce their visibility in their users’ feeds.
“The challenges of the pandemic are constantly changing, and we are constantly monitoring the emergence of false claims on our platforms,” Facebook spokesman Aaron Simpson said in an email.
No medical test is perfect, and legitimate questions about the accuracy of Covid-19 tests have abounded throughout the pandemic. There has always been a risk of a false positive or false negative result. The Food and Drug Administration says antigen tests can give false positive results if users don’t follow instructions. These tests are generally accurate when used correctly, but in some cases may show a positive result when exposed to other liquids, said Dr. Glenn Patriquin, who published a study on false positive antigen tests using various liquids in an American Society for Microbiology publication.
“Using a fluid with a different chemistry than what was designed means that the lines of results can appear unpredictable,” said Dr. Patrikin, assistant professor of pathology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
The situation was complicated by the fact that there were defective products. Last year, the Australian company Ellume recalled about two million home testing products it shipped to the United States.
But when used properly, coronavirus tests are considered reliable for identifying people with high levels of the virus. Experts say our growing knowledge of testing must be different from the lies about testing that have been circulating widely on social media, although that makes debunking those lies more of a challenge.
“Science is inherently uncertain and changing, which makes it extremely difficult to combat disinformation,” Ms Koltai said.
Coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
The researchers say lies are on the rise despite social media efforts to crack down on them, and that many of them contain lies that have surfaced in the past.
The surge “fits the model of the disinformation industry during the pandemic,” said John Gregory, associate health editor at NewsGuard, which assesses the credibility of news sites and tracks the prevalence of misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines. “Whatever the current mainstream story is, they are looking for their own narrative to undermine it.”
In July, the CDC said it would withdraw its request to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for one specific test at the end of the year. The CDC later clarified that hundreds of other Covid-19 tests are still available from other manufacturers.
However, reports that the agency has stopped supporting PCR tests have gone viral on Facebook. According to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by Facebook, the most popular post promoting lies in July garnered 11,500 likes, shares and comments. Added to the post is the lie that the CDC recommendations mean that PCR tests cannot tell the difference between the coronavirus and the flu, when in fact the agency just recommended using tests that can detect and distinguish between the flu and Covid-19 at the same time.
Despite fact-checking for several days, the statement never completely disappeared. The Gateway Pundit article relaunched the claim at the end of the year, garnering almost twice as many likes, shares and comments on Facebook as the previous post. On Instagram, screenshots of the article also went viral, garnering hundreds of likes.
Mr Gregory said a similar phenomenon occurred with social media posts claiming various liquids tested positive at home for the coronavirus.
On December 23, 2020, a YouTube video revealed that tests for the coronavirus were turning positive after testing for kiwi, orange and berry fruit juice. It has garnered over 102,000 views. In the same month, a video with the same results from Coca-Cola was posted on YouTube, which received 16,800 views.
A year later, TikTok and Instagram are full of similar videos on the same topic.
The re-emergence of false narratives, even after social media stigmatized them a year earlier, is indicative of the power of disinformation, Ms Koltai said, “thrives when it can be linked to a current event.”
“This is how narratives can peak at different times,” she said.