Novel coronavirus (30) BBC: How a misleading map went global

19 February, 2020

Below is an example of how researchers can inadvertently contribute to misinformation. Read online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51504512

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As scientists work hard to track and contain the coronavirus outbreak, misleading information about the global spread of the virus continues to flourish on the internet.

Here's how a decade-old map showing global air travel was used incorrectly by news websites across the world, leading to headlines such as "New map reveals no country safe from coronavirus tentacles" and "Terrifying map reveals how thousands of Wuhan travellers could have spread coronavirus to 400 cities worldwide."

How did it start?

Earlier this month, the World Population Project, at the University of Southampton, published research predicting where people from Wuhan, where the virus originated, had travelled to in the two weeks before the city went into quarantine lockdown.

Researchers looked at air travel and mobile phone data of Wuhan residents from previous years.

The study estimated nearly 60,000 people might have travelled to almost 400 cities worldwide before the Wuhan authorities had imposed a ban on travel.

The researchers posted a series of messages about their work on Twitter, including one with a map illustrating global air travel.

But the post did not explain the map was not part of the study...

What happened next?

The map seems to have first been picked up by several Australian news outlets. It has also appeared in the online editions of the Sun, Daily Mail and Metro.

The Australian TV outlet 7News used the map in a discussion and posted a social-media video featuring it that has now been viewed more than seven million times.

The report says the map predicts the spread of the global outbreak.

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Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org