106 Sites in the U.S. and Europe Now Promoting Coronavirus Misinformation
Updated data from NewsGuard’s Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center shows that health care hoax sites are exponentially more popular than websites of public health institutions
(March 3, 2020—New York City) In the week since NewsGuard launched its Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center— a dynamic list of the websites that are publishing false and potentially harmful stories about the Wuhan coronavirus — the list has grown from 31 sites to 106, suggesting that generally unreliable publishers in the U.S. and Europe are increasingly looking to profit off people’s fears about the global epidemic.
New additions to the list include 54 websites in the NaturalNews.com network — a group of sites that includes the deceptive domains FactCheck.news and Pandemic.news — that has published medical and non-medical conspiracy theories since 2003, and the French and German sites from Sputnik News, the Russian state-owned news agency.
The large increase is especially concerning because many of these sites are far more popular than the websites of trusted public health sources. “Misinformation about the outbreak is clearly beating reliable information when it comes to engagement on social media worldwide,” John Gregory, NewsGuard deputy editor for health and a co-leader of the Tracking Center, wrote in STAT News.
Over the last 90 days, posts from the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization received 364,483 “engagements,” or likes, shares, and comments on social media. In that same period, the 75 U.S. sites that NewsGuard found to have published coronavirus misinformation received a combined 52,053,542 “engagements” — more than 142 times the engagement of the two major public health institutions providing information about the outbreak.
“We are seeing a remarkable degree of consistency. Sites that are already notorious for publishing misinformation about a wide range of topics are now also jumping on the coronavirus bandwagon,” said Gabby Deutch, NewsGuard’s Washington correspondent and a co-leader of the Tracking Center. “Misinformation and disinformation related to health care poses the greatest immediate threat to those who read if it is not flagged for what it is — which is what we do.”
All but one of the sites in the Tracking Center are rated Red by NewsGuard, meaning they fail to meet basic standards of credibility and transparency. Among all generally unreliable sites in the U.S., 31.3% have published inaccurate health information. Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, these websites peddled hoaxes such as that vaccines cause autism, 5G causes cancer, and fruit pits cure cancer.
Polling conducted by Gallup shows that over nine in 10 people who have used NewsGuard’s browser extension find its ratings of news and information sites helpful, and a majority of users say they would be less likely to share articles from sites that NewsGuard has rated Red.
“Research has proven that labeling the reliability of websites is the most effective way to warn readers to proceed with caution before trusting the credibility of websites,” said Steven Brill, co-CEO of NewsGuard. “When news consumers are not empowered with information about the reliability of hoax health care websites, it’s no surprise that false claims about the virus go viral. We look forward to all news consumers having access to ratings of websites wherever and however they get their news, whether from social media, search, or visits directly to websites.”
NewsGuard’s ratings and labels are available through products such as Microsoft’s Edge browser for iOS and Android devices and by subscribers to the NewsGuard browser extension.
Misinformation about the coronavirus includes false claims about both the origins of the virus and treatments for it. Among the most popular false claims are that the virus was engineered in a Chinese laboratory as a bioweapon or stolen by Chinese spies from Canada. Hoax websites have promoted dangerous “treatments” for the virus including colloidal silver, bleach, and high doses of Vitamin C.
Readers who come to the Tracking Center will see a list of the misinformation sites. By clicking on these links, they can read NewsGuard’s Nutrition Label, which provides extensive information about each site’s background, financing, and journalistic standards.
Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy.
NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.
NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. These ratings are made available to consumers through its browser extension, which is available on Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox browsers, and on mobile devices through the Edge mobile browser for iOS and Android devices. Hundreds of libraries globally use NewsGuard’s free media literacy browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.
- Steven Brill, Co-CEO, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 212-332-6301
- Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO, email@example.com, +1 212-332-6407
- John Gregory, Staff Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Gabby Deutch, Washington Correspondent, email@example.com