Coronavirus Goes Viral: Quantifying the COVID-19 Misinformation Epidemic on Twitter

This thread was written by Khalil Baddour (@KBadd) on March 13, 2020.

About 1 in 4 tweets on #COVID19 (24.8%) contains misinformation.

In light of the “infodemic” we have been facing on social media regarding COVID-19, we analyzed a sample of 673 tweets and found that more than 40% contain false or unverifiable information.

The sample was randomly selected from the most popular hashtags and terms (see graph). We cross-checked tweets that contained genuine information (ie, no memes/non-serious content) with sources such as @WHO, @CDCgov and peer-reviewed publications.

Our data covers all tweets in English regardless of origin. It is safe to assume that this is reflective if not under-predictive of Lebanon where information also commonly spreads rapidly through private channels such as @WhatsApp chain messages often containing misinformation.

@WHO and @CDCgov among others have worked diligently to implement new methods to guide the public on social media towards accurate information. They have ensured that reliable sources of information appear as top hits on @Twitter and @Google for example. (source: What Next for the Coronavirus response? – a study by John Zarocostas).

However the issue remains pervasive, both on and off @Twitter. Worth adding that tweets containing misinformation were as likely to foster user engagement (RTs+Likes) than tweets that didn’t. Lies spread at least as fast as the truth, if not potentially faster.

Physicians and Medical Associations have a very important role to play in addressing misinformation and replacing it with correct, evidence-based information in order to educate the public and dispel rumors. Please do your best to make informed fact-based decisions! #COVID19

Numbers really help to put something we might have all suspected in perspective. Please refer to reliable sources for information. The more informed we are, the more rational our decisions, and the less anxious we will feel. And please do not trust/share @WhatsApp messages!

This was a joint effort with @RKouzyMD @JAbiJaoudeMD @AklElie @MollyAlam @adib_elio @Cindytraboulsi @amkj94 Basil Karam and Jabra Zarka who were willing and able to make this side project a reality.

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