Keep Calm and Stay Vigilant About Misinformation
A chaotic morning leaves plenty of room for conspiracies to spread
People across the country woke up to news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for Covid-19. Trump shared the news in a tweet posted around 1 a.m. Eastern, noting that he and his wife would begin their “quarantine and recovery process immediately.” The White House has confirmed that Trump has “cold-like symptoms,” and Mrs. Trump tweeted this morning that she has “mild symptoms” but is “overall feeling good.”
Nothing else about the Trumps’ condition or diagnosis has been confirmed. That’s why it’s important, now, to be extra-vigilant about misinformation, which has flooded the internet in light of the president’s tweet. As the Daily Beast put it this morning, “Conspiracy-Theory Twitter Is Going Nuts Over Trump’s COVID Diagnosis.”
One conspiracy suggests that the president is faking an illness to get out of debates and tax fraud claims; another posits that he’s faking illness in order to make a full recovery and dismiss Covid-19 as a cold. There is no information to back up any of these theories, and it’s important not to repeat or spread them as fact. The spread of unsubstantiated claims, as previous research on Covid-19 misinformation has shown, could have disastrous public health effects: As I wrote previously on the Coronavirus Blog, misinformation is linked to people trying harmful treatments, committing racist abuse and violence, and supporting anti-vaccine sentiment. Rumors suggesting that Covid-19 is not real, as some have purported, can be extremely dangerous, especially as the country struggles to control its fall surge of the disease. And as the country hurtles toward Election Day, misinformation can be a powerful polarizing force.
It might be hard to keep a steady head while reading the news today. But being aware of what is known, and the context in which this announcement was made, can help you keep track of what is true and what is not.
“Just remember that this isn’t the first 74-year-old obese person to get coronavirus,” Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells the Coronavirus Blog.