Covid test misinformation is rising along with the spread of Omicron


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On December 29, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that frequently promotes conspiracy theories, published an article that falsely implied that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had withdrawn all PCR tests for the detection of Covid-19. The article garnered 22,000 likes, comments and shares on Facebook and Twitter.

On TikTok and Instagram, videos of home Covid-19 tests that showed positive results after soaking in drinking water and juice have gone viral in the past few weeks and have been used to spread the false story that rapid coronavirus tests are not working . Some household fluids can cause a test to show a positive result, health experts say, but the tests remain accurate when used as directed. A TikTok video showing a home test that returned positive after being placed under running water has been shared at least 140,000 times.

And on January 1, the Canadian right-wing website Rebel News posted a video on YouTube entitled “Rapid Antigen Tests Unmasked”. It generated over 40,000 views, and its comments section has been a hotbed of misinformation. “The real purpose of this test is to keep the sample size as high as possible in order to maintain fear and incentives for further restrictions,” said a comment with more than 200 likes. “And of course profit.”

Misinformation about Covid-19 tests has increased on social media in recent weeks, researchers say, as coronavirus cases have risen again around the world due to the highly contagious variant of Omicron.

The outbreak of misinformation threatens to further hamper public efforts to contain the health crisis. Previous tips in pandemic-induced falsehoods that centered on vaccines, masks, and the severity of the virus. The falsehoods are helping to undermine best practices used to control the spread of the coronavirus, health experts say, noting that Misinformation remains a key factor when refusing to vaccinate.

The categories include falsehoods that PCR tests don’t work; that the counts for flu and Covid-19 cases have been combined; that PCR tests are vaccines in disguise; and that rapid home tests have a predetermined result or are unreliable because different fluids can make them positive.

According to Zignal Labs, which tracks mentions on social media, cable TV, and print and online, these topics have surged into the thousands of mentions in the last three months of 2021, compared to just a few dozen in the same period in 2020 outlets.

The added demand for testing due to Omicron and the higher prevalence of breakthrough cases have given misinformation providers a “good time” to take advantage of them, said Kolina Koltai, a University of Washington researcher who studies online conspiracy theories. The false narratives “support the whole idea of ​​not trusting the infection numbers or the death toll,” she said.

The gateway pundit did not respond to a request for comment. TikTok pointed this out Guidelines which prohibit misinformation that could harm people’s physical health. YouTube said it was reviewing the videos shared by the New York Times in line with its Covid-19 misinformation Guidelines on the subject of testing and diagnostics. Twitter announced that The Gateway Pundit posted an article in December for violating his Coronavirus Misinformation Policy and that tweets with incorrect information about generally accepted testing methods would also violate his guidelines. But the company said it is not taking any action personal anecdotes.

Facebook said it worked with its fact-checking partners to put warnings on many of the posts, directing people to fact-checking the false claims and reducing their awareness on its users’ feeds.

“The challenges of the pandemic are constantly changing and we are consistently watching for false claims emerging on our platforms,” ​​said Aaron Simpson, a Facebook spokesman, in an email.

No medical test is perfect, and legitimate questions about the accuracy of Covid-19 tests abound throughout the pandemic. It has has always been a risk a false positive or false negative result. The Food and Drug Administration says that there is potential for Antigen testing to give false positive results if users do not follow the instructions. These tests are generally accurate when used correctly, but may appear to show a positive result in some cases when exposed to other fluids, said Dr. Glenn Patriquin, the a. published to learn of false positive results in antigen tests with various fluids in a publication by the American Society for Microbiology.

“Using a liquid with a different chemical composition than originally intended can cause result lines to appear unpredictable,” said Dr. Patriquin, Assistant Professor of Pathology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

To make matters worse, there have been some defective products. Last year the Australian company Ellume called back about two million of the home test products it shipped to the United States.

but when used correctly, Coronavirus tests are believed to be reliable in detecting people with high levels of the virus. Experts say our growing knowledge of tests should be a different topic than lies about tests that have gotten rife on social media – though it makes those lies more difficult to debunk.

“Science is inherently insecure and changing, which makes fighting misinformation extremely difficult,” said Ms. Koltai.

Researchers say that despite the efforts of social media companies, the untruths are growing, and that many contain lies that have surfaced in the past.

The surge “fits the pattern of the misinformation industry during the pandemic,” said John Gregory, assistant health editor at NewsGuard, who has assessed the credibility of news sites and tracked the prevalence of Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation. “Whatever the current mainstream story, they seek their own narrative to undermine it.”

The CDC said in July that it would withdraw its application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of a particular test by the end of the year. Hundreds more Covid-19 tests are still available from other manufacturers. the CDC later clarified.

Nonetheless, posts spread across Facebook claiming the agency had withdrawn support for PCR testing. The most shared post that spread the untruth in July collected 11,500 likes, shares and comments, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analysis tool from Facebook. The post added the falsehood that the CDC’s recommendation meant that PCR tests could not differentiate between the coronavirus and the flu, even though the agency had merely recommended the use of tests that simultaneously detect and differentiate between the flu and Covid-19 could.

Despite fact check the complaint never completely disappeared within days. Gateway Pundit’s article revived the claim at the end of the year, garnering almost double the likes, shares, and comments from the previous post on Facebook. Screenshots of the article also went viral on Instagram and garnered hundreds of likes.

Mr Gregory said a similar phenomenon occurred on social media posts claiming various fluids were positive on coronavirus tests at home.

On December 23, 2020, a video on YouTube showed that coronavirus tests turn positive after testing for kiwi, orange, and berry fruit juice. It garnered over 102,000 views. In the same month, a video with the same results with Coca-Cola was posted on YouTube, which garnered 16,800 views.

A year later, a flood of similar videos with the same topic surfaced on TikTok and Instagram.

For Ms. Koltai, the recurrence of false narratives, even after social media companies flagged her a year earlier, shows the power of misinformation to “thrive when they can attach themselves to a current event.”

“This is how narratives can peak at different times,” she said.


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