Virus Misinformation Spikes as Delta Cases Surge

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In the past few weeks, the vast majority of the most highly engaged social media posts containing coronavirus misinformation were from people who had risen to prominence by questioning the vaccines in the past year.

In July, the right-wing commentator Candace Owens jumped on the misstatement from Britain’s scientific adviser. “This is shocking!” she wrote. “60% of people being admitted to the hospital with #COVID19 in England have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the government’s chief scientific adviser.”

After the scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, corrected himself, Ms. Owens added the correct information at the bottom of her Facebook post. But the post was liked or shared over 62,000 times — two-thirds of its total interactions — in the three hours before her update, a New York Times analysis found. In all, the rumor collected 142,000 likes and shares on Facebook, most of them coming from Ms. Owens’s post, according to a report by the Virality Project, a consortium of misinformation researchers from outfits like the Stanford Internet Observatory and Graphika.

When reached for comment, Ms. Owens said in an email: “Unfortunately, I’m not interested in The New York Times. The people that follow me don’t take your hit pieces seriously.”

Also in July, Thomas Renz, a lawyer, appeared in a video claiming that 45,000 people had died from coronavirus vaccines. The claim, since debunked, relies on unverified information from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a government database. The baseless claim had been included in a lawsuit that Mr. Renz filed on behalf of an anonymous “whistle-blower,” in coordination with America’s Frontline Doctors — a right-wing group that spread misinformation about the pandemic in the past.

Mr. Renz’s video got more than 19,000 views on Bitchute. The unfounded claim was repeated by the top Spanish-language Telegram channels, Facebook groups and the conspiracy website Infowars, collecting over 120,000 views across the platforms, according to the Virality Project.

In an email, Mr. Renz said his practice had “performed the due diligence necessary” to believe in the accuracy of the allegations in the lawsuit he had filed. “We actually do not believe that the Biden administration is responsible for this, rather we believe that President Biden, like President Trump before him, was misled by the same group of conflicted bureaucrats,” Mr. Renz said.

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