Fake news buster NewsGuard is keeping busy these days, thanks to the coronavirus.
The service started two years ago to flag websites that peddle unsubstantiated claims has issued a new report on coronavirus conspiracy theories and fake cures. It’s flagged 132 and counting, including a series of sites pushing the notion that the coronavirus was created as a biological weapon — by Canada.
“They’re proliferating because people are scared, and when people are scared, scam artists move in,” said Steve Brill, who cofounded NewsGuard with former Dow Jones executive Gordon Crovitz.
According to NewsGuard, the biological weapon theory appears to have gotten its start on a little-known website in India, GreatGameIndia, with an article published on Jan. 26 titled: “Coronavirus Bioweapon — How China Stole Coronavirus from Canada and Weaponized It.”
The story claims two Chinese spies smuggled the virus from a lab in Winnipeg to a military lab in Wuhan, where it “leaked” into the local population. The article was little noticed on its own until it was picked up by anonymous bloggers at ZeroHedge, which was then picked up by right-leaning Web site RedStateWatcher, which boasts 4.2 million followers.
The story, which has been debunked by news sites like FactCheck.org, soon went viral. “Misinformation can be amplified by even a small group of unreliable sites that share their claims on social media,” the report said.
The report also flagged eight American websites that it claims are “promoting and selling their own products as cures or remedies for coronavirus.”
It blasted Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory radio show and InfoWars website, for example, for ads capitalizing on fears of a food shortage due to the coronavirus. The ad, which claims “Others Are Sold Out,” offers a four-week supply of “My Patriot Supply Food.”
It also takes issue with ads that peddle, as a coronavirus cure, colloidal silver, a form of liquid silver that can turn human’s skin, nails and gums grayish-blue, according to the FDA.
Brill said these sites are “making tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars each, especially those that are getting ads from big-name brands via programmatic advertising.”
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