Coronavirus round-up: a flood of conspiracy theories, India’s assault on dissent, and The Atlantic coronavirus coverage

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Edited by Marco Nurra

Why coronavirus conspiracy theories flourish. And why it matters. The coronavirus has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories, disinformation and propaganda, eroding public trust and undermining health officials in ways that could elongate and even outlast the pandemic. “The belief that one is privy to forbidden knowledge offers feelings of certainty and control amid a crisis that has turned the world upside down. And sharing that “knowledge” may give people something that is hard to come by after weeks of lockdowns and death: a sense of agency,” writes Max Fisher.

John Oliver examines One America News (OAN), a far-right network favored by Trump whose misinformation is now especially dangerous. It’s not just far-right hosts and talking points; the network has also promoted conspiracy theories, such as offering $100k for information in conspiracy target Seth Rich’s murder. Last year, they traveled with Trump sidekick Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to film a series about his “investigations” in the country, and Rion recently hosted a special boosting a conspiracy theory that coronavirus was developed as a bioweapon in a lab in North Carolina. “The whole selling point of OAN is that they are Fox News with even less shame, and even fewer scruples,” Oliver said.

Brazilian fact-checkers excoriate the country’s leaders for promoting disinformation about COVID-19. Five Brazilian fact-checking organizations released a scathing indictment Wednesday of their country’s leadership accusing them of spreading misinformation about COVID-19. The open letter was published by at least two major newspapers: Folha de S.Paulo and O Estado de São Paulo. You can read the English version here.

What role should newsrooms play in debunking COVID-19 misinformation? When conspiracies pass a tipping point, newsrooms working collectively to push out strong debunks can slow the spread of myths and misinformation. “While it’s easy to dismiss the impact of these conspiracies and falsehoods, it seems we should be taking them more seriously. A survey published by Pew at the beginning of April found 39% of Fox News viewers believed the virus was created in a lab. And the real-world implications playing out over the 5G myth in the U.K. mean it’s hard to ignore,” writes Claire Wardle.

Coronavirus misinformation comes in multiple forms and demands multiple solutions. In a new report, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism identified some of the main types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation seen so far. They analysed a sample of 225 pieces of misinformation rated false or misleading by fact-checkers and published in English between January and the end of March 2020. “English-language fact-checks rose more than 900% from Jan to March, but the total volume of different kinds of coronavirus misinformation has almost certainly grown even faster,” writes Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, co-author of the report with Oxonians J. Scott Brennen, Felix M. Simon, and Philip N. Howard.

For its must-read coronavirus coverage, The Atlantic is rewarded with a huge surge of digital subscriptions. “We’ve prioritized free access to the stories that can help people make decisions that keep them safe, physically and mentally, as well the stories holding officials accountable for failures related to the virus,” said Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic.

Tackling misinformation during Covid-19: a journalistic and ethical imperative. Journalism really needs to step up the plate to tackle a misinformation contagion. The Ethical Journalism Network has spoken to leading fact-checkers and verification experts who are helping journalists report on Covid-19. Multiple organisations have launched tools, resource hubs and websites and are offering advice, insights and free online training.

Coronavirus: How are the social media platforms responding to the ‘infodemic’? As rumours and hoaxes about Covid-19 spread, here’s how the biggest platforms are working to tackle misinformation. [First Draft latest update: April 8 2020]

Under Modi, India’s press is not so free anymore. India’s government has pressured advertisers and even shut down channels to shape the information that 1.3 billion Indians receive. It’s part of a wider assault on dissent.

New Puerto Rico law threatens jail time for spreading ‘false information’ about COVID-19. An amendment to the island’s Public Security law makes it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information” relating to government proclamations or executive orders concerning COVID-19 or other disasters. Those convicted under the amended law will face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Bolivia enacts decree criminalizing ‘disinformation’ on COVID-19 outbreak. Bolivian interim President Jeanine Añez signed a decree extending Bolivia’s nationwide COVID-19 lockdown to April 15. Article 13-2 of the decree states that “individuals who incite non-compliance with this decree or misinform or cause uncertainty to the population will be subject to criminal charges for crimes against public health.” The decree states that violators could face one to 10 years in prison if convicted of violating that article.

Here’s how 15+ member-driven organizations are adapting membership appeals, events, and more for coronavirus. Newsrooms have quickly adapted pillars of their membership programs and memberful routines to respond to the realities of this crisis. They can be grouped into four topics: Making membership appeals; Turning in-person events into online events; Acting as community connectors; Leveraging expert networks.

The Pulitzer Prize has been postponed due to the coronavirus. The Pulitzer Prize board is postponing the 2020 award winners announcements originally slated for Monday, April 20. Now, the awards for journalism, books, drama and music will be announced on Monday, May 4 at 3 p.m. Eastern time via livestream at

The Wellcome Trust called on big businesses to donate $8bn for research into developing diagnostic tests, therapies and vaccines to tackle the pandemic. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the London-based medical research charity, said a huge investment in scientific research is “the only exit strategy” to save millions of lives and drag the global economy out of an inevitable recession. Twitter chief Jack Dorsey has pledged to donate $1bn to fund coronavirus research to help “disarm this pandemic”. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the world’s richest person, has said he will donate $100m to food bank charity Feeding America. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $100m to efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and to fund testing and treatments. Michael Dell, the founder of Dell computers, has committed $100m.