The online proliferation of fake news has compounded the already colossal challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Specific erroneous claims about the COVID-19 pandemic have led to real world consequences. Therefore, it is important to understand what COVID-19 news is being shared at both the national and regional scale.
To help answer this question, we analyzed the Twitter feeds of over half a million registered American voters who have tweeted about COVID-19. In October, we published a report describing which groups of U.S voters share the most COVID-19 fake news and which fake news websites they were sharing. This revealed that older Republicans were more likely to share fake news than other groups. It also showed that the Gateway Pundit is by far the most shared fake news website in COVID-19 tweets.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue for many more months and worsen during the cold winter. This means that monitoring how COVID-19 news is shared on Twitter will remain an important task going forward. To this end, the Lazer Lab is maintaining an interactive data dashboard so the public can discover which articles, websites and keywords are being shared most on Twitter at both the national and state level.
The COVID-19 Tweets data reveal a number of findings. For instance, the animation below illustrates the month-on-month change in the most shared news websites for COVID-19 news. Throughout the pandemic, the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN have consistently been the three most shared websites. Below that, however, there has been a great deal of flux in the rankings. For instance, the Gateway Pundit - the only fake news website in the top list -- has seen a has waxed and waned in popularity since the start of the pandemic, peaking in May at number 11 of hundreds of news outlets.
The dashboard allows users to explore the top links, domains and keywords extracted from 29 million tweets related to Covid-19 shared between January 1st and October 30th, 2020 by over half a million Americans.
Of the fake news websites shared in our panel, the Gateway Pundit has been consistently the most shared. The animation below reveals that the Gateway Pundit has been the highest ranked fake news website in COVID-19 tweets from January up until October. In fact, our previous report showed that the next most shared fake news websites -- Judicial Watch, InfoWars and WND -- were shared an order of magnitude less than the Gateway Pundit.
The COVID-19 Tweets dashboard now has a new section looking at COVID-19 keywords associated with fake news domains. The table below shows that certain keywords are much more prevalent in fake news tweets relative to all tweets. These include a number of keywords that link the COVID-19 outbreak with China (e.g. “wuhanlockdown”, “chineseflu”, “chinaflu”, “wuhanflu” etc). The keyword that appears most frequently in fake news tweets is “dr mikovits”, who is a virologist known for promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Given that fake news websites are shared in only 1% of tweets, it is striking that 61% of the “dr mikovits” occurrences occur in fake news tweets.
Lazer Lab will regularly update the COVID-19 Tweets dashboard going forward. We hope offering these data in a user-friendly and interactive manner will help keep the public informed about the COVID-19 news being shared both nationally and locally. It is likely that COVID-19 cases will rise again during the winter and so we hope the COVID-19 Tweets dashboard can help journalists and decision makers combat misinformation about COVID-19.