What is behind the wide reach of  fake news about Coronavirus?

fake news 2020

(Markus Winkler, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Carolina Vissoci Lima, a 2nd year medical student at Universidade Regional de Blumenau (FURB) and a member of IFMSA Brazil since 2018. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Fear. This is the main reason why many people died in an emblematic case of fire that happened in the southern Brazil club Kiss by being trampled even before they could get intoxicated by carbon dioxide.1 As the numbers of infected individuals rise, people’s despair increase along with it. In such wise, the same principle of behavior is behind the high-speeded spreading of fake news. Once these misinformations are propagated and reach a large public, the impacts may be very hard to rectify.2

Although Coronavirus is not the first context of an outbreaking disease which the widespread use of social media is a tool for broadcasting fake news about it, society never seems to learn its lesson. In the same manner, caregivers had to fight both the infection and the false informations that were spread during the Ebola outbreak.3 Likewise, misstatements had way more global reach then valid data when Zika virus arised a few years ago.4 These and so many others are background that men apparently forgot when a new virus came up in China last December.5

As people react the same way to a new virus rising, it is possible to realize that some impacts are going to be repeated. When the Ebola virus got its worldwide reach, the fear of the most vulnerable lead to xenophobic misconceptions dissemination such as prejudice toward West Africans, support for restrictive travel policies, prejudice against undocumented immigrants and ethnocentrism. The same research that pointed out these indicators of xenophobia determined that collectivism is the best key to cope with this scenario.6 Still, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), other nations must be supportive to China.7

Yet the fake news attract more attention and the access to trustworthy scientific information are limited,8 it is very important to reinforce the use of fact-checking tools in order to fight misinformation. The countermeasures for that can include provenance, engagement, transparency, narrative and reputation.9 Another fundamental approach is demanding from decision makers to stimulate more investments on researches about Coronavirus intending to develop an specific treatment for the disease it causes.

Therefore, people should not trample those who need just as much or even more help than themselves but offer the assistance required. Since neither the nationality nor the ascendance of a person are directly related to the disease as a risk factor, xenophobic attitudes must be highly despised. Thus, solidarity and empathy for the sick ones are essentials to get through any outbreaking disease aiming to obtain favorable outcomes. Those are the reasons why fear and prejudice must not lead on society and fake news must be combated.



  1. ABRANTES, Talita. Veja fotos da tragédia na boate Kiss em Santa Maria (RS). 2013. Available in: <https://exame.abril.com.br/brasil/veja-imagens-do-resgate-do-incendio-em-santa-maria-rs/&gt;. Access on: Feb. 6th 2020.
  2. GILLIGAN, Jeffrey T.; GOLOGORSKY, Yakov. #Fake News: Scientific Research in the Age of Misinformation. World Neurosurgery, [s.l.], v. 131, p.284-284, Nov. 2019. Elsevier BV. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wneu.2019.08.083.
  3. MARTIN, Andy. Ebola is killing people but rumours about Ebola are killing even more. 2019. Available in: <https://www.independent.co.uk/independentminds/long-reads/fake-news-ebola-outbreak-drc-red-cross-a8956816.html&gt;. Access on: Feb. 6th 2020.
  4. SOMMARIVA, Silvia et al. Spreading the (Fake) News: Exploring Health Messages on Social Media and the Implications for Health Professionals Using a Case Study. American Journal Of Health Education, [s.l.], v. 49, n. 4, p.246-255, Jun. 7th 2018. Informa UK Limited. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19325037.2018.1473178.
  5. UNITED NATIONS. Coronavirus global health emergency: Coverage from UN News. 2019. Available in:  <https://news.un.org/en/events/un-news-coverage-coronavirus-outbreak&gt;. Access on: Feb. 7th 2020.
  6. KIM, Heejung S.; SHERMAN, David K.; UPDEGRAFF, John A.. Fear of Ebola. Psychological Science, [s.l.], v. 27, n. 7, p.935-944, May 20th 2016. SAGE Publications. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797616642596.
  7. UNITED NATIONS. Coronavirus: UN health agency moves fast to tackle ‘infodemic’; Guterres warns against stigmatization. 2020. Available in: <https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/02/1056672&gt;. Access on: Feb. 9th 2020.
  8. PETERS, A. et al. Fighting the good fight: the fallout of fake news in infection prevention and why context matters. Journal Of Hospital Infection, [s.l.], v. 100, n. 4, p.365-370, Dec. 2018. Elsevier BV. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhin.2018.08.001.
  9. MERCHANT, Raina M.; ASCH, David A.. Protecting the Value of Medical Science in the Age of Social Media and “Fake News”. Jama, [s.l.], v. 320, n. 23, p.2415-2417, Dec. 18th 2018. American Medical Association (AMA). http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.18416.

About the author

Carolina Vissoci Lima is a 2nd year medical student at Universidade Regional de Blumenau (FURB) and a member of IFMSA Brazil since 2018. She is part of the local Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace (SCORP) team and the first local Capacity Building director of IFMSA Brazil FURB. She is interested in the humanized practice of medicine and the medical educational tools that aims to achieve this goal by empowering and motivating the undergraduate caregivers.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Health Education, is it a necessity?

From coca to cocoa: three lessons from Peru on how farmers can leave the drug trade behind

European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, who gets it and who pays the bill?

Dozens killed and injured by new airstrikes in western Yemen, UN coordinator condemns ‘outrageous’ toll

China Unlimited and the Chinese dream

Youth employment crisis easing but far from over

The Europe we want: Just, Sustainable, Democratic and Inclusive

Investing in rural women and girls, ‘essential’ for everyone’s future: UN chief

Further reforms in France can drive growth, improve public finances and boost social cohesion

Mental distress during the pandemic: is there a way out?

What has changed in the French politico-economic horizon

Everyone has ‘a moral imperative’ to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities, says UN chief

This entrepreneur built an island resort out of plastic waste

EU Parliament approves CETA: the EU-Canada free trade deal sees the light in Trump’s gloomy era

Civilian death toll continues to mount in Syria, UN relief chief tells Security Council

Fears for food security and the future of farming families, as Fall Armyworm spreads to Asia

Bacteria vs. humans: how to fight in this world war?

World’s human rights watchdog spotlights Afghanistan, Yemen and 12 others: Here’s the scoop

Draghi keeps the euro cheap, helps debt refinancing, recapitalization of banks and growth

Why we need a Paris Agreement for nature

How blockchain can cut the cost of new medicine

Madagascar: UN chief commends leaders, State institutions following ‘historic milestone’ election

If on a summer’s night: is UK businesses’ “new deal” the only key to the “best of all worlds”?

Soil erosion must be stopped ‘to save our future’, says UN agriculture agency

Europe’s forests are booming. Here’s why.

Batteries included: how better storage can transform renewable energy

Replacement for United States on Human Rights Council to be elected ‘as soon as possible’

MEPs back first EU management plan for fish stocks in the Western Mediterranean

Why COVID-19 could mean a new dawn for Nigeria’s manufacturing sector

Eurostat: Real unemployment double than the official rate

A major win for transgender rights: UN health agency drops ‘gender identity disorder’, as official diagnosis

Lessons from the Global Entrepreneurship Index

Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May at last week’s EU Council. Source: EC Audiovisual Services / Copyright: European Union, 2017 / Photo: Etienne Ansotte

EU leaders open “Phase Two” of Brexit talks and warn Theresa May of tougher times

This is how AI can help you make sense of the world

Boosting adult learning essential to help people adapt to future of work

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

How can we produce enough protein to feed 10 billion people?

Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked in 30 major cities

Commission presents EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements for signature and conclusion

Improving Italy’s capital market will boost growth opportunities for Italian companies and savers

‘Uphold human dignity’, dismantle ‘specious notion of racial superiority’ urges UN chief

The company of the future must do well by doing good

UN chief hails victory of ‘political will’ in historic Republic of North Macedonia accord

Towards a climate-neutral Europe: EU invests over €10bn in innovative clean technologies

‘Crippling to our credibility’ that number of women peacekeepers is so low: UN chief

Afghanistan: top UN official denounces ‘extreme’ suffering of civilians in Ghazni

This is how countries compare on gun deaths

Commission Work Programme 2019: Delivering on promises and preparing for the future

Sri Lankan authorities must work ‘vigorously’ to ease simmering ethno-religious tensions, urges UN rights expert

UNcomplicating the UN: a new podcast is born over coffee in New York

Stronger European Border and Coast Guard to secure EU’s borders

Commission paralysed before the banking leviathan

Malta: investigation risks being compromised while Prime Minister is in office

Industrial products: Lifting the last impediments in the EU single market

Is South Korea set to lose from its FTA with the EU?

Berlin cannot dictate anymore the terms for the enactment of the European Banking Union

Half of Eurozone in deflation expecting salvation from monetary measures

US life expectancy is falling – here’s why

Why business schools can’t “return to normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic

More women and girls needed in the sciences to solve world’s biggest challenges

More Stings?


Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s