Coronavirus (166) Debunking COVID-19 misinformation with friends and family (7) How bad information goes viral

20 March, 2020

An interesting piece from the BBC about the misinformation issue that refers to a version of the misinformative message I previously posted about (and that others have also mentioned):

Coronavirus: How bad information goes viral

In a message on this form, Tusharkanti Dey (Novel coronavrus (149)) wonders what will happen in developing countries, "where there is so much of poverty, lack of good scientific and evidence based source of information and widespread illiteracy etc."

If I may be allowed to give some personal insight again. One of the advantages of having a large, extended family living all around the world with different health literacy, educational levels and language skills is that I can observe how facebook messages are picked up and shared by different people/groups at different times as covid-19 spreads from country to country:

Having posted my previous message some time ago now, I was alarmed to see someone in the UK post it on their facebook, sharing it from a totally different source to the source of my emailed message.

This post was then quickly shared by other family in the UK. I tried to feedback on each individual false message (it's exhausting), fearing that the fake news would be seen by those in a developing country who would take it at face value and spread it at a far greater speed. (Covid-19 cases there were low so there was little knowledge. Plus there is some distrust of the govt and an assumption that those in the 'west' are better informed.)

Sure enough, within 24 hours it had reached there and had started to be spread. Most alarmingly, it was now being spread there by doctors and professors. As soon as they posted, their immediate family would share it online.

Not having time (or energy) to address each false post, I posted a piece on my own timeline warning of this misinformation, accompanied by a WHO graphic on being smart in relation to covid-19 information. Same family members, ZERO shares (I'm reminded of the comment from Amelia Abdelrazik, in which she recounted negative reception to her pointing out fake news).

At around the same time, I saw almost the same story posted from Canada with a facebook 'fake info' sticker. This gave the following guidance from Facebook on how to spot false news ( ).

Heartening action, it seemed.

Then, just as I praised Facebook for taking action on this issue, I spotted a sponsored ad for £99 home-testing kits (PHE [Public Health England] had advised against use of these due to them being potentially inaccurate!)

It seems to me that algorithms, sponsorship, 'trusted' family sources and family networks, behaviours, and cultural, educational and health literacy diversity are a heady mix in this global misinformation 'infodemic'.

Best wishes


(Julie) Naima Reza PhD

Independent Science Communications Consultant, Project Manager & Science/Medical Writer and Editor

HIFA profile: Julie N Reza is a UK-based specialist in communications for biosciences, global health & international development ( She predominantly works with NGOs and not-for-profit organisations. Previously she was the senior science editor at TDR, based at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva; prior to this she worked at the Wellcome Trust, UK, leading educational projects on international health topics including trypanosomiasis and trachoma. She has a PhD in immunology and a specialist degree in science communication. She also has several years research and postgraduate teaching experience. She is a member of the HIFA Steering Group and HIFA Social Media Working Group.

Email: naimareza AT