In February, COVID-19-related disinformation fell to its lowest level ever — just as disinformation related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exploded, the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) wrote in a brief published on Tuesday.
COVID-19 disinformation falls to its lowest level
The EDMO fact-checking network, which is made up of 13 fact-checking partner organizations, including Agence France Presse, contributed to Tuesday’s brief. Among the 1,067 articles submitted in February, 322 articles (30.2%) focused on COVID-19, marking the lowest percentage ever recorded by the EDMO’s briefs.
The decrease in disinformation seems to follow the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases across the EU, as well as the easing of restrictions in a number of countries — and the emergence of a new topic in late February: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine-related disinformation explodes
Out of the 1,067 fact-checking articles published in February by the 13 organizations part of the EDMO fact-checking network, 221 (20.7%) focused on Ukraine-related disinformation, with the vast majority being published after February 24.
“We expect that in March the Ukraine war-related disinformation will be predominant, surpassing the COVID-19-related disinformation,” the EDMO writes. In February, a number of organizations EDMO has partnered with saw a higher percentage of articles dedicated to Ukraine-related disinformation than to COVID-19 disinformation, including Poland’s Demagog and Portugal’s Poligrafo, with both countries seeing some disinformation related to Ukraine in January as well, EDMO notes.
Most major false stories in the Europe in February
In January, the four false stories with the widest circulation in Europe were:
- Austrian TV broadcasts images of false corpses to justify COVID-19 restrictions
- On the first day of the Ukrainian war, Russia did not attack civilian targets
- Video game images, video used to portray Russian operations in Ukraine
- Trucker convoy video in different countries misrepresented as coming from EU
In Greece, the two biggest false stories related to the Austrian story using false corpses to justify COVID-19 restrictions and video game footage portraying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although a number of others were widely shared across the country.
Most significant, verified disinformation stories
In January, the most significant, verified disinformation claims at a national level in Europe, were the following:
- In Finland, a claim spread that bags with the word “Omikron” on them contained a bacterium sprayed from planes on people, but the bags were actually produced by an Italian company manufacturing plastic granules.
- In France and Germany, a false claim spread that Queen Elizabeth, who contracted COVID-19, used Ivermectin to treat her illness. This took place after her physician was photographed — separately — with a vial of Ivermectin showing in the picture.
- In Lithuania, a false claim spread that Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis publicly called for starting an invasion of Russia.
The information EDMO collected was part of a questionnaire it sent to the fact-checking organizations part of its network in February. The reference period for the information collected was February 1 to February 28, 2022, and there were 13 fact-checking organization respondents, including Pagella Politica/Facta.
The EDMO receives funding from the EU, according to the brief.