Celebs are ‘super-spreaders’ of coronavirus fake news, study says
Celebrities are “super-spreaders” of fake news and conspiracy theories during times of crisis — including the coronavirus pandemic, experts say.
Researchers from Queensland University in Australia blamed stars, such as Woody Harrelson and Whiz Khalifa, in a study probing how far-fetched fringe internet theories become front-page news.
“These are the super-spreaders. These are the people who are really making something go viral,” Axel Bruns, a professor with the school’s Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre, said in an online presentation Thursday.
Big-mouth celebs can even fuel misinformation just by discussing a bonkers theory — without pushing it — on social media, he said.
“It’s one thing to post this from a conspiracy account that’s got a few hundred followers, but once you get major celebrities with literally millions of followers on Twitter or Facebook talking about this, even just dismissively, obviously it reaches a much, much larger audience,” said Bruns.
Researchers found that spikes in the circulation of COVID-19-related misinformation online were almost always linked to celebrity or media endorsements.
In one example, they examined the recent fake news that 5G cellphone towers spread the coronavirus and found that most “shares” about it happened after “The Hunger Games” actor Woody Harrelson promoted the conspiracy theory on Instagram, and rapper Whiz Khalifa spoke about it in a Facebook video.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, Harrelson, 58, told his more than 2 million followers that he found a report about “the negative effects of 5G” and its supposed role in the coronavirus pandemic “very interesting.”
Circulation of the dangerous theory also increased after UK tabloid the Daily Express wrote an article about it, and when a UK boxer posted a video on the subject to a sports group with almost 26 million members, according to the study.
“Now the public is genuinely confused, and genuinely divided. They’re pointing fingers at China … and at each other,” said another researcher, Timothy Graham.
“This is payday for disinformers. This is the best thing that could happen to them and the worst thing that could happen for democracy,” he said, according to the Brisbane Times.
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