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The Explainer: How did misinformation about the coronavirus spread on Whatsapp in Ireland?

One of the striking things about the coronavirus outbreak is the sheer scale of misinformation being spread about it. We take a look at why, and what it means.

Image: Shutterstock

THE COUNTRY IS in the middle of an unprecedented coronavirus crisis – schools are shut, people are working from home when they can, and the government has been reassuring people that it’s doing all it can to curb the virus’s spread.

But besides the very obvious unusual things about this situation, there has been something else people have had to contend with: the spread of misinformation.

The messaging app Whatsapp has been the main source of messages which have made false claims. People have been receiving messages and audio files which say things like the country was set to ‘go into lockdown’ and that people should not take ibuprofen if they have Covid-19.

The messages often purport to come from a friend or relation who has contacts with the Defence Forces, gardaí or other official body.

Sometimes there is a kernel of truth in the messages, but on the whole they tend to be false. They also tend to aim to induce panic or unease in the recipient, for example by saying there are ‘media blackouts’ on some information, which is not true. Other messages encourage people to stock up on food and baby products.

On this week’s episode of The Explainer podcast, we look at the spread of misinformation, and at TheJournal.ie‘s work of debunking the claims.

Presenter Sinéad O’Carroll is joined by executive producer Christine Bohan and reporter Sean Murray to talk about how the misinformation first emerged, how they have debunked the claims, and what this all means.

This week’s episode was recorded while all staff worked remotely at their respective homes. 


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

This episode was put together by presenter Sinéad O’Carroll, producer Aoife Barry, assistant producer and technical operator Nicky Ryan, and executive producer Christine Bohan. Guests were Michelle Hennessy and Anthony Staines. Design by Palash Somani.

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