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Middle East, already in turmoil, now getting conspiratorial disinformation about Covid-19

Coronavirus disinformation adds conspiratorial fuel to a volatile Middle East, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , By Samikshya SiwakotiJacob N. ShapiroIsra ThangeAlaa Ghoneim, September 7, 2020

If some sources in the Middle East and North Africa are to be believed, China has declared nuclear war on the United States as retaliation for the latter creating the coronavirus to destroy the Chinese economy. Other equally dubious sources could lead a person to believe that 5G technology is responsible for the virus, or that COVID-19 spreads the most in countries located on the 40th parallel north.

When the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the region in late January, many Middle Eastern and North African governments responded quickly and decisively to the pandemic by instituting lockdowns and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Yet, as part of a Princeton University project to track COVID-19 disinformation narratives, we can say these physical containment measures have done little to contain the spread of misinformation.

Misinformation has been a part of political life in the Middle East and North Africa for years; the coronavirus era has proved no exception. In the past eight months, we recorded 403 independent COVID-19 misinformation narratives in the region. These narratives, which represent general storylines which then get repeated in tweets, posts, or online articles, make up a little over 16 percent of the 2,471 storylines our project has collected from countries around the world so far.

The  sources of misinformation—ranging from social media users to heads of state—painted either a bleaker picture than is actually warranted by the facts or gave false hope that the containment and eradication of the virus was at hand.

On the bleak side of the spectrum: In Algeria and the Palestinian territories, fake news on social media suggested that some cities or jurisdictions had extended a lockdown. In Egypt, false rumors claimed that newspaper presses were stopped and schools were turned into field hospitals. Again in Algeria, social media users falsely claimed that the state had instituted a moratorium on marriages. In the UAE, social media users falsely claimed that malls and dressing rooms were shuttered due to the spread of the coronavirus. ……….

On the false hope side of the ledger, other narratives downplayed the severity of the virus and declared that life was finally returning to normal. In the early months of the pandemic, some people falsely claimed that certain drugs, such as Viagra, were effective against the virus or spread false news about the imminent discovery of a vaccine. One false story spread on Facebook claimed that a treatment for the virus was already available in all Iraqi pharmacies. Another rumor in Egypt claimed that the virus had already mutated into a weaker form. Common too, were false claims that emergency response measures were being relaxed. In Egypt and Algeria, wedding venues would allegedly open. In Saudi Arabia, international flights were set to resume. Tunisia would soon lift its quarantine.

While certainly optimistic, none of these rumors were true.

Another trend we’ve seen in the region is the widespread portrayal of countries as being exceptionally successful in combating COVID-19………..

Government officials themselves were the source of misinformation in several narratives we found. In Israel, the deputy health minister falsely claimed that Israel has the highest rate of coronavirus testing in the world. In early April in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech holding the West liable for the pandemic, in addition to sharing the hashtag #COVID1948 on social media, a reference to the 1948 establishment of Israel. Khamenei’s actions are just one example of the several state narratives in Iran that blame other countries for the creation and spread of the pandemic, while continuing to maintain that domestically, the country is returning to normal.

Although there is a lot of misinformation coursing through the media and on social networks in the Middle East and North Africa, there are at least 10 fact-checking platforms in the region, publishing information in both Arabic and English.

In the Middle East and North Africa, false stories perpetuated by a mix of social media users, official media, and political leaders make it difficult for regular people to differentiate what’s true from misinformation. A volatile region where three wars are being fought can ill afford coronavirus-related lies and nationalistic pandemic one-upmanship.   https://thebulletin.org/2020/09/coronavirus-disinformation-adds-conspiratorial-fuel-to-a-volatile-middle-east/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter_09072020&utm_content=DisruptiveTechnology_CoronavirusDisinfoMiddleEast_09072020

Coronavirus disinformation adds conspiratorial fuel to a volatile Middle East, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , By Samikshya SiwakotiJacob N. ShapiroIsra ThangeAlaa Ghoneim, September 7, 2020

If some sources in the Middle East and North Africa are to be believed, China has declared nuclear war on the United States as retaliation for the latter creating the coronavirus to destroy the Chinese economy. Other equally dubious sources could lead a person to believe that 5G technology is responsible for the virus, or that COVID-19 spreads the most in countries located on the 40th parallel north.

When the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the region in late January, many Middle Eastern and North African governments responded quickly and decisively to the pandemic by instituting lockdowns and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Yet, as part of a Princeton University project to track COVID-19 disinformation narratives, we can say these physical containment measures have done little to contain the spread of misinformation.

Misinformation has been a part of political life in the Middle East and North Africa for years; the coronavirus era has proved no exception. In the past eight months, we recorded 403 independent COVID-19 misinformation narratives in the region. These narratives, which represent general storylines which then get repeated in tweets, posts, or online articles, make up a little over 16 percent of the 2,471 storylines our project has collected from countries around the world so far.

The  sources of misinformation—ranging from social media users to heads of state—painted either a bleaker picture than is actually warranted by the facts or gave false hope that the containment and eradication of the virus was at hand.

On the bleak side of the spectrum: In Algeria and the Palestinian territories, fake news on social media suggested that some cities or jurisdictions had extended a lockdown. In Egypt, false rumors claimed that newspaper presses were stopped and schools were turned into field hospitals. Again in Algeria, social media users falsely claimed that the state had instituted a moratorium on marriages. In the UAE, social media users falsely claimed that malls and dressing rooms were shuttered due to the spread of the coronavirus. ……….

On the false hope side of the ledger, other narratives downplayed the severity of the virus and declared that life was finally returning to normal. In the early months of the pandemic, some people falsely claimed that certain drugs, such as Viagra, were effective against the virus or spread false news about the imminent discovery of a vaccine. One false story spread on Facebook claimed that a treatment for the virus was already available in all Iraqi pharmacies. Another rumor in Egypt claimed that the virus had already mutated into a weaker form. Common too, were false claims that emergency response measures were being relaxed. In Egypt and Algeria, wedding venues would allegedly open. In Saudi Arabia, international flights were set to resume. Tunisia would soon lift its quarantine.

While certainly optimistic, none of these rumors were true.

Another trend we’ve seen in the region is the widespread portrayal of countries as being exceptionally successful in combating COVID-19………..

Government officials themselves were the source of misinformation in several narratives we found. In Israel, the deputy health minister falsely claimed that Israel has the highest rate of coronavirus testing in the world. In early April in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech holding the West liable for the pandemic, in addition to sharing the hashtag #COVID1948 on social media, a reference to the 1948 establishment of Israel. Khamenei’s actions are just one example of the several state narratives in Iran that blame other countries for the creation and spread of the pandemic, while continuing to maintain that domestically, the country is returning to normal.

Although there is a lot of misinformation coursing through the media and on social networks in the Middle East and North Africa, there are at least 10 fact-checking platforms in the region, publishing information in both Arabic and English.

In the Middle East and North Africa, false stories perpetuated by a mix of social media users, official media, and political leaders make it difficult for regular people to differentiate what’s true from misinformation. A volatile region where three wars are being fought can ill afford coronavirus-related lies and nationalistic pandemic one-upmanship.   https://thebulletin.org/2020/09/coronavirus-disinformation-adds-conspiratorial-fuel-to-a-volatile-middle-east/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter_09072020&utm_content=DisruptiveTechnology_CoronavirusDisinfoMiddleEast_09072020

 

September 8, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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