Twitter Superspreaders: Europe

Tracking Twitter’s European COVID-19 misinformation ‘Super-spreaders’

by Marie Richter, Chine Labbé, Virginia Padovese and Kendrick McDonald

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 in France, Italy, and Germany.

The following list focuses on Twitter accounts with large follower counts — 20,000 or more followers — who have shared links with false information from websites that NewsGuard has rated Red, meaning they were found to be generally unreliable sources of news, or who have shared other COVID-19 misinformation reviewed by NewsGuard.

Key Findings

In this data set, we have identified 16 Twitter accounts that are “Super-spreaders” of COVID-19 misinformation, meaning they have large follower counts. Combined, these accounts reach about 616,600 followers, who, of course, can then spread them on their own social media accounts.

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 20,000 followers — have continued to be able to use Twitter to publish blatant misinformation about the pandemic after that date. In two cases (one in France and one in Germany), the accounts have been verified by Twitter, meaning only that the identity of the account holder has been confirmed but that could look to users as if Twitter has verified the account and its content more fully.

In many cases, the accounts have previously spread misinformation about other subjects. For example, the Twitter account of the German site Compact-Magazin has promoted 9/11 conspiracies; the Twitter account of Italian site ByoBlu.com shared articles promoting false claims about a connection between vaccines and autism; and the Twitter account of French far-right website Egalite Et Reconciliation has shared disinformation about the civil war in Syria. All three of these sites had already been rated Red by NewsGuard, meaning that NewsGuard’s Red warning icon would have been visible to those having access to NewsGuard’s browser extension along with these COVID-19 hoaxes the moment the hoax was posted.

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. On May 11, Twitter also announced it would add labels and warning messages on some tweets spreading misleading information about the virus. 

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.

A Twitter spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on these accounts and the COVID-19 misinformation they have shared.

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 20,000 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
  • They were active as of May 20, 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.


FRANCE

Number of accounts: 7

Number of posts: 12 

Total number of followers:  251,800

Alain Soral Officiel @AlainSoralOffic

60,900 Followers

The Twitter account of far-right essayist Alain Soral, who was convicted multiple times for making anti-Semitic slurs and for engaging in Holocaust denial. The account, created in 2012, often shares links to articles published on EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr (EqualityAndReconciliation in French), a Red-rated website created by Soral that often publishes false claims and conspiracy theories.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Alain Soral did not respond to a message from NewsGuard sent through a contact form on his website EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr, seeking comment about the above posts. 


TomLaRuffa, @TomLaRuffa

43,300 Followers

The verified Twitter account of French professional wrestler Tom La Ruffa, who tweets in English and French and shares wrestling videos as well as comments about the news, including on the alleged health hazards of 5G technology.

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • May 6 tweet with a link to a video excerpt of the documentary Plandemic, which is rife with false claims about the coronavirus pandemic, such as the claim that the virus was manipulated and that flu vaccines increased the odds of getting COVID-19. The Tweet added a comment saying, ironically : “But of course, conspiracies don’t exist. And the pharmaco-medical entity only wants our well-being. And the media always tell us the truth.” 

Asked about the above tweet, Tom La Ruffa told NewsGuard in a Twitter message: “With this recent Covid19 crisis, we often notice that scientists are contradicting one another. Even the WHO (World Health Organization) was mistaken in the last few months in several of its analyses or predictions, including at the beginning of this pandemic, when it underestimated its severity, and even delayed revealing certain pieces of information to the international community.” When he published this tweet, “the ‘Plandemic’ video was still available on YouTube and already neared 2 million views at the time,” he wrote, adding, “My sharing of it was therefore completely justified.” (Editor’s Note: To read La Ruffa’s full response to NewsGuard, please click here).


Pierre Jovanovic @pierrejovanovic

39,000 Followers

The Twitter account of author and blogger Pierre Jovanovic, who mostly retweets news about the French government, and has retweeted articles from websites that NewsGuard has found to be unreliable, including EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr and TVLibertes.com.

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • April 16 tweet that suggested that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates could be “the one and only manipulator of this virus” since “he wants less people on earth.” The tweet included a photo of a 1997 issue of George magazine featuring an interview with Gates, and a quote attributed to him in which he supposedly said that an “overpopulated planet” would be “choked to extinction by a lung-attacking virus.” However, Snopes found that Gates never said this.

Alain Soral did not respond to a message from NewsGuard sent through a contact form on his website EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr, seeking comment about the above posts. 


Egalite Et Reconciliation @EetR_National

33,000 Followers

The Twitter account of Red-rated and far-right website EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr, which often publishes false claims and conspiracy theories and whose founder Alain Soral was convicted multiple times for making anti-Semitic slurs and for engaging in Holocaust denial.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Alain Soral, the website’s founder, did not respond to a message from NewsGuard sent through a contact form on EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr, seeking comment about the above posts.  


L’info Libre @linfolibre

28,900 Followers

A Twitter account created in 2017 that describes itself as a media “for those resisting unhappy globalization.” L’Info Libre means The Free News in French.

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

This Twitter account could not receive messages and L’info Libre did not respond to a Facebook message from NewsGuard seeking comment about the above post. An email listed for a website called LinfoLibre.com, which displays the same logo, could not be delivered. 


LeLibrePenseur @LLP_Le_Vrai

23,600 Followers

The Twitter account of Red-rated conspiracy website LeLibrePenseur.org (which means The Free Thinker in French) and Marseille-based Franco-Algerian Youtuber Salim Laïbi, who describes himself as a “dental surgeon, whistleblower, editor and writer.” This account, created in 2011, has shared misinformation on other topics, including vaccines. 

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Asked about the above posts in a Twitter message, @LLP_Le_Vrai did not directly address NewsGuard’s comments. Instead, the sender provided a link to another article from LeLibrePenseur.org, relating to a France 24 interview with Taiwan vice-president Chen Chien-jen, in which he called for a “scientific investigation” to determine the origins of the virus. Previously asked by NewsGuard about posts on its Facebook page and about its editorial practices, the website declined to comment. 


MédecinIden†i†aire ن @Reveident

23,100 Followers

The Twitter account of a medical doctor based in Poitiers, who states in his bio that he “believes that all peoples deserve their own identity.” “To dilute it = real racism,” his bio states. The account was created in 2013. 

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

In a Twitter message to NewsGuard, @Reveident wrote: “What seemed obvious to me since the beginning of the pandemic was the unlikelihood of a spontaneous mutation of a virus whose epicenter was a city that, surprise surprise, is home to a world level research laboratory on viruses. I personally think there was an accidental leak from the laboratory. I always find it useful not to overlook any lead, and to read opinions that are different from mine…. Remember that the fake news of today might be the real news of tomorrow.” 


ITALY

Number of accounts: 5

Number of posts: 9

Total number of followers: 231,600

Alessandro Meluzzi – @a_meluzzi

70,900 Followers

The Twitter account of Alessandro Meluzzi, who describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, criminologist. Forensic Psychiatry Professor. Primate of the Ancient Eastern Autocephalous Italian Orthodox Church.” Meluzzi is a former Member of Parliament from the center-right party Forza Italia.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • April 16 tweet with a link to a video on Radio Radio Tv’s YouTube channel, containing a portion of the interview with American scientist Shiva Ayyadurai that, according to the tweet, “explains everything that the deep state is trying to hide on Coronavirus” (“che ci spiega tutto ciò che il deep state sta cercando di nascondere sul Coronavirus”). Shiva claimed that some people and institutions, including Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, the Gates Foundation, and the United Nations, “want to spread the fear for Coronavirus,” which was “created by the deep state.” Shiva has also suggested that the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is a strict vitamin regimen of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, and iodine. “The solution is staying out in the sun, if you can’t do it, take Vitamin D supplements,” Shiva stated. He also blamed the pandemic on U.S. health official Anthony Fauci, whom he called “the face of Big Pharma”.
  • May 9 tweet with a link to the Plandemic documentary, which included an interview with anti-vaccine activist Judy Mikovits, which is filled with false claims about the coronavirus pandemic. Referring to those working on a vaccine, Mikovits stated: “And they will kill millions, as they already have with their vaccines.”

Asked about the above posts, Meluzzi’s administrative office told NewsGuard in an email: “Meluzzi thought the content of these tweets was an interesting topic for a debate.”


Byoblu – @byoblu

70,500 Followers

The Twitter account of the Italian website ByoBlu.com owned and run by blogger Claudio Messora. The site is rated Red by NewsGuard and has published false and unsubstantiated health claims.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • March 19 tweet with a link to a video interview published on ByoBlu.com with Italian researcher Stefano Montanari, who said of COVID-19, “Healthy people suffer absolutely no harm from this virus” and that “The virus mortality is very low, probably even nonexistent”.
  • May 12 tweet with a link to another video interview published on ByoBlu.com with Italian researcher Stefano Montanari, who stated that “Coronavirus is a hoax. If it had been taken care of correctly, it would have gone unnoticed” (“Il coronavirus è una bufala. Se fosse stato curato correttamente sarebbe passato inosservato”). In the video, Montanari also stated that to fight COVID-19 he suggests using intravenous Vitamin C and ozone.

ByoBlu.com did not respond to a message from NewsGuard sent through a contact form on the site, seeking comment about the posts mentioned above.


Patrizia Rametta – @PatriziaRametta

37,000 Followers

The Twitter account of  Patrizia Rametta, who has served as regional coordinator of right-wing The League party in Sicily.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • May 10 tweet with a link to a YouTube video. Rametta, citing the content of the video, wrote in her tweet: “Bill Gates has had the Coronavirus patent since before the pandemic. SOMEONE HAD DOUBTS? However it is a very weak virus, you need a vaccine for a virus that can be killed at 18 degrees Celsius. We have experienced a lockdown. WHY? CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN?”.

This Twitter account could not receive messages, and Patrizia Rametta did not respond to a Facebook message from NewsGuard seeking comment about the above post. 


Cesare Sacchetti – @CesareSacchetti

29,200 Followers

The Twitter account of Italian journalist Cesare Sacchetti, who owns and runs the website LaCrunaDellAgo.net (The Eye Of The Needle). 

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • April 23 tweet with the link to an article by Sacchetti published on his website LaCrunaDellAgo.net. The tweet said: “The emails hacked by US hackers would confirm very serious facts. The coronavirus would have been modified in the laboratory with HIV, to be intentionally spread. All this in order to reach a goal: the microchip of Bill Gates and Rockefeller.”
  • May 4 tweet with a link to an article published on LaCrunaDellAgo.net. The tweet said: “In March 2019, the EU officially spoke about the pandemic. They had decided to make a vaccine for a virus that wasn’t even there! They also wanted Bill Gates and Rockefeller’s digital vaccine. They wanted to take us to The New World Order. They did it with Covid”.
  • May 5 tweet stating: “Bill Gates: ‘The most urgent thing in the world now is the Covid-19 vaccine’. African children who received Bill Gates’ vaccines either died or became epileptic. Bill Gates’ vaccines are more dangerous than any coronavirus.”

Asked about these false claims, Cesare Sacchetti told NewsGuard in a Twitter message: “In the articles published on my site there are links to the sources that attest to what is reported there. These tweets refer precisely to those articles where news and facts are reported with attached sources.” 

Commenting on the April 23 tweet, Sacchetti said: “Just for the record, also a Nobel Prize [winner], Montagnier, and other scientists claimed that the virus was created in a laboratory.”

About the May 4 tweet, Sacchetti said: “The digital vaccine does exist and it has already been administered in Texas. It is not clear to me what you are contesting me about this tweet.”
Regarding the May 5 tweet in which he stated that “African children who received Bill Gates’ vaccines either died or became epileptic,” Sacchetti said: “If you want the source of the damage that vaccines have done in Africa, I recommend this study.” He provided a link to a study examining the effects of the introduction of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) and oral polio vaccine (OPV) in an urban community in Guinea-Bissau in the early 1980s. The study concluded that “DTP was associated with increased mortality.”


Elio Lannutti – @ElioLannutti

24,000 Followers

The Twitter account of Elio Lannutti, Member of Parliament for the Five Star Movement.

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • March 19 tweet with a link to an article published on the site Debuglies.com. The tweet promoted the false claim that Vitamin C can cure COVID-19, stating: “Coronavirus COVID-19: intravenous vitamin C can help cure pneumonia and prevent viral replication.”

Lannutti did not respond to an email from NewsGuard seeking comment about this post.


GERMANY

Number of accounts: 4

Number of posts: 5

Total number of followers: 133,200

RT Deutsch

48,400 Followers

A Twitter account associated with the Red-rated site RT Deutsch, a Russian government disinformation and propaganda news outlet previously known as Russia Today. The account was created in June 2014.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

Asked about this false COVID-19 claim, an RT Deutsch representative, Sebastian Range, told NewsGuard in an email: “As you have correctly pointed out, this is an interview. This statement is the personal opinion of Mr. König (‘in my opinion’) and not that of our network. Such a distinction should be obvious from a journalistic point of view.”


KenFM.de

36,100 Followers

A Twitter account associated with the website KenFM.de, which is run by the German activist and former RBB journalist Ken Jebsen. The account was created in March 2014.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • May 4 tweet with a link to an article on KenFM.de that features a video statement by Jebsen. The video includes numerous false or misleading statements about the coronavirus, and conspiratorial speculation about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including that the couple had “bought” the WHO, “because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides over 80% of the funding to the World Health Organization.” (Correctiv reported that the Gates Foundation provides 11.41 percent of the WHO’s funding.) The video also falsely claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was planning to implement “mandatory [corona] vaccination via the back door,” and that the virus was a “relatively harmless flu.” Correctiv debunked both claims as well. 

NewsGuard sent an email to KenFM.de seeking comment on the false claims about COVID-19, but did not receive a response. 


COMPACT-Magazin

27,900 Followers

An account associated with the Red-rated website of Compact, a monthly German magazine that advances the views of the right-wing AfD party and that promotes Russian disinformation. Created in March 2014, the account primarily posts articles from Compact-Online.de.

Example of COVID-19 Misinformation:

NewsGuard sent an email to Compact-Online seeking comment on the false claim about COVID-19, but did not receive a response. 


RalfTHeuer

20,800 Followers

A pro-Russian and pro-Trump account that frequently shares articles, videos, and photos about conspiracy theories, including QAnon and “Obamagate,” a conspiracy theory being advanced by U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters related to unspecified claims of wrongdoing by the Obama administration. The account was created  in April 2014.

Examples of COVID-19 Misinformation:

  • May 13 tweet with a link to the conspiracy-oriented, right-wing site Watergate.tv, containing the false claim that the novel coronavirus is “as harmless as the average flu season,” as well as speculation that Bill Gates is plotting to implement deadly mandatory coronavirus vaccines.
  • May 8 tweet with a link to a video excerpt of the documentary Plandemic, which is rife with false claims about the coronavirus pandemic; the video excerpt has been removed from YouTube.

NewsGuard was unable to confirm the identity of the owner of this account and could not reach out for comment, since the account does not accept direct messages.