A protester’s sign casts doubt on the existence of coronavirus during a demonstration in California in early May A BBC team tracking coronavirus misinformation has found links to assaults, arsons and deaths. And experts say the potential for indirect harm caused by rumours, conspiracy theories and bad health information could be much bigger.
"We thought the government was using it to distract us," says Brian Lee Hitchens, "or it was to do with 5G. So we didn’t follow the rules or seek help sooner."
Brian, 46, is talking by phone from his hospital bed in Florida. His wife is critically ill – sedated, on a ventilator in an adjacent ward.
"The battle that they’ve been having is with her lungs," he says, voice wobbling. "They’re inflamed. Her body just is not responding."
After reading online conspiracy theories, they thought the disease was a hoax – or, at the very least, no worse than flu. But then in early May, the couple caught Covid-19.
"And now I realise that coronavirus is definitely not fake," he says, running out of breath. "It’s out there and it’s spreading." Brian Lee Hitchens thought the virus was a hoax – until he and his wife caught it Dangerous misinformation
A BBC team has been tracking the human toll of coronavirus misinformation. We’ve investigated dozens of cases – some previously unreported – speaking to the people affected and medical authorities in an attempt to verify the stories.The effects have spread all around the world.Online rumours led to mob attacks in India and mass poisonings in Iran. Telecommunications engineers have been threatened and attacked and phone masts have been set […]