Twitter Super-Spreaders

Tracking Twitter’s COVID-19 Misinformation ‘Super-spreaders’

As COVID-19 spreads around the world, NewsGuard has been tracking the top hoaxes about the pandemic that are spreading on the internet—and the dozens of websites that are publishing those false stories.

Today, we’re adding to our data a new set of data focused not on individual websites or false stories, but on the Twitter accounts that repeat, share, and amplify these myths — from false cures to conspiracy theories about the virus.

The following list focuses on Twitter accounts with large follower counts — 100,000 or more followers — who have shared links with false information from websites NewsGuard has found to be generally unreliable sources of news, or who have shared other COVID-19 misinformation reviewed by NewsGuard. Accounts with these many followers represent an infinitesimal percentage of Twitter accounts.

Key Findings

In this data set, we have identified 10 Twitter accounts that are “Super-spreaders” of COVID-19 misinformation, meaning they have large follower counts. Combined, these accounts reach 3,279,842 followers. 

Each example of COVID-19 misinformation found by NewsGuard comes after Twitter’s March 18 announced efforts to address the issue. These large Super-spreader accounts — again, all with over 100,000 followers — have continued to use Twitter to publish blatant misinformation about the pandemic after that date. In two cases the accounts have been verified by Twitter.

In many cases, the accounts have previously spread misinformation about other subjects. For example, half of the accounts listed below have promoted the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which The Associated Press has reported “centers on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the ‘deep state’ and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.”

NewsGuard found examples of Super-spreaders promoting cures or treatments and other violations of Twitter’s policies. For example, Twitter announced, in part, that it would look for content “with the intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance, such as: ‘social distancing is not effective,’” but this message continues to spread on the platform. Martin Geddes, with just under 150,000 followers, shared nearly that exact language on April 9, a little over a week after sharing a link suggesting that Zinc could cure the coronavirus.

Asked about Geddes’s account specifically and others generally, Twitter declined to comment.

In the past, Twitter has cited its efforts to protect users from content coming from sites that have violated its terms of service, which include posting claims about COVID-19 involving false cures. However, those efforts — which the list below demonstrates have not worked — are inherently less effective, even if they could achieve scale, than “pre-bunking” unreliable sources by warning users in advance of the unreliability of these sources. Pre-bunking has allowed NewsGuard to review and rate approximately 95% of all news and information website articles that are shared on Twitter in the countries where NewsGuard operates.

Some links, such as those to NaturalNews.com and Mercola.com, included notices from Twitter that they violated the platform’s Terms of Service. However, those warnings were shown only to users who clicked on the links, leaving out those who only read tweets and headlines in their feeds. Additionally, the warnings did not provide any specific information about the apparent violation.

This is a work in progress. We will be continuing to add to this list of Super-spreaders who are continuing to be allowed by Twitter to spread toxic disinformation.

Methodology and Data Set

To qualify as Super-spreaders, Twitter accounts we have included here had to meet three simple criteria:

  • They have followings of more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. 
  • They have published or shared clearly and egregiously false content about the virus —  either one of the top COVID-19 myths we’ve previously debunked or a false story we have debunked in one of the Nutrition Labels in our Coronavirus Misinformation Tracker. In many cases, the accounts have shared such content more than once.
  • They were active as of May 5, 2020. In other words, Twitter had not acted to remove them prior to our publication of this data.

Our analysts derived this list in part by tracing which Twitter accounts had linked to false stories on websites from our COVID-19 misinformation tracker. This data was supplemented with additional research and reporting.

Again, this list is a work in progress. The accounts listed may not be the most frequent offenders or be the publishers of false COVID-19 misinformation with the largest audiences. And the examples we list for each account do not necessarily represent an exhaustive list of all the times the account published COVID-19 misinformation.

If you are aware of another account that meets these criteria, please report it here and our team will review it.

Scroll down for a list of some of the most egregious examples of misinformation “Super-spreaders” we’ve found so far.


Femi Fani-Kayode

955,412 Followers

The verified twitter account of former Nigeria politician Femi Fani-Kayode, who has repeatedly shared misinformation about vaccines and 5G technology. It was created in 2012.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Fani-Kayode did not respond to an email from NewsGuard seeking comment about his posts with false COIVD-19 information.


Bill Mitchell

579,913 Followers

The verified twitter account of conservative radio commentator Bill Mitchell, who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

NewsGuard sent Mitchell a Twitter direct message seeking comment on his posts with false COVID-19 information but did not receive a response.


Deep State Exposed

330,218 Followers

The Twitter account of author Jeremy Stone, who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

NewsGuard emailed Jeremy Stone at an email address listed on his website, DeepStateBooks.com, seeking comments on his posts but did not receive a response.


David Icke

311,064 Followers

The Twitter account of former British football player David Icke, who has repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories, including the idea that the world is under the control of shape-shifting aliens.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

In an email, Icke did not address his tweets and accused NewsGuard of censorship.


Dr. Joseph Mercola

291,121 Followers

The Twitter account of osteopathic physician and alternative medicine advocate Joseph Mercola, who has published false claims about standard medical practices such as vaccinations.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • March 27 tweet with a Mercola.com link suggesting high heat, including from a sauna or steam bath, can treat the coronavirus.
  • March 23 tweet with a Mercola.com link promoting unproven herbal treatments for COVID-19.

NewsGuard emailed Janet Selvig, the editor of Mercola.com, to inquire about Dr. Joseph Mercola’s tweets. Selvig directed NewsGuard to the list of references of the two Mercola.com articles included in the tweets, neither of which proved that raising your body’s temperature or taking herbal remedies will treat the COVID-19 virus.


Melissa A.

259,952 Followers

The Twitter account of Melissa A., a conservative social media figure.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

NewsGuard sent a Facebook message to Melissa A. inquiring about her tweets with false COVID-19 information but did not receive a response.


Jordan Sather

155,688 Followers

The Twitter account of Jordan Sather, who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

NewsGuard emailed Sather at an address listed on his website seeking comment on his tweets but did not receive a response. After seeking comment from Twitter and Sather, an April 17 tweet about chlorine dioxide was deleted from the platform.


Martin Geddes

152,857 Followers

The Twitter account of Martin Geddes, who describes himself as a “Digital Soldier” banned from MailChimp and Medium who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • April 1 tweet with a NaturalNews.com story falsely suggesting that zinc can cure COVID-19.
  • April 9 tweet with claims rejecting the guidance of medical experts about the effectiveness of social distancing.

NewsGuard contacted Geddes through a form on his personal website to seek comment on his tweets. Geddes told NewsGuard that “quoting a line from an article is not the same as promoting the idea.”


CJTruth

123,733 Followers

An anonymous Twitter account created in 2009 that promotes the QAnon conspiracy.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • March 30 tweet with a NaturalNews.com link falsely suggesting zinc can cure COVID-19.
  • March 30 tweet linking to a Gateway Pundit story with false claims that the drug hydroxychloroquine has a 100% success rate in treating COVID-19.

NewsGuard sent CJTruth a Twitter direct message inquiring about the account’s posts with false COVID-19 information, but its response did not address the inquiry. Instead, CJTruth wrote, “Another fake news site. Aren’t there enough of these? Who are you funded by?”


Organic Lifestyle

119,884 Followers

The Twitter account of Organic Lifestyle Magazine, which has published misinformation about vaccines, 5G technology, and other health-related subjects. It was created in 2009.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Organic Lifestyle Magazine did not respond to an email seeking comment on the publication’s tweets with false COVID-19 information.