06 Mar

Coronavirus: two pieces of disinformation regarding Marcelo Tinelli and Federico Bal become viral

Por Ariel Riera and Celeste Gómez Wagner

Updated 10 de March, 2020 at 3:10 pm

If you only have a few seconds, read these lines:

  • On Twitter, two fake accounts claimed that both men had been infected. The topic prompted more than 6 thousand messages on the network.
  • The celebrities explained the disinformation in their official accounts on Twitter, although the most shared message pointed to the trending topic without clarifying the fake news.
  • The most popular link was shared by a fake account pretending to belong to “Infobae”.

This week, the minister of Health, Ginés González García, confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in Argentina, which prompted a debate inside and outside the social networks. There are two confirmed* cases in the country at the moment, as corroborated by the Ministry press to Chequeado. Until yesterday at 1 p.m., 119 cases and 9 deaths had been confirmed in the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

In addition to the outbreak, another issue is being fought: disinformation. Due to the amount of myths and lies being spread about the Coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) talked about an “infodemic” and clarified inaccurate information regarding the disease (see here).

Yesterday, for instance, two hashtags supporting the TV presenter and producer Marcelo Tinelli and the actor Federico Bal after they supposedly became infected with the virus – which they denied – became a trending topic on Twitter. Cequeado found – through Trendsmap – that, from March 3 at 8 a.m. until today at the same time, 6,,500 messages about this topic were shared in Argentina.

The disinformation came from fake accounts with the names of Federico Bal and Marcelo Tinelli. One of them is available and the other has been suspended. The most shared tweet was posted by the account @porquetendencia, which has 2676,400 followers and whose characteristic is explaining the reason why a given hashtag became viral. It had 628 shares and almost 8 thousand “likes”.

The account found to be the most influent (in terms of comments, mentions and retweets) has 180,316 followers and has been active since January 2018. The user is a comedy youtuber who has more than 40 million views in his channel. He shared several messages about the topic on Twitter with the false information.

Some communication vehicles published notes about the disinformation. The case with the highest repercussion regarded the channel TN. Although the title of their article referred to the falsehood of the content, they were criticized by Marcelo Tinelli when he denied the rumor, accusing the news center of giving “credit” to “fake news on Twitter”. The TN report is no longer available. Other communication vehicles, such as Minuto Neuquén, published news without denying the disinformation.

In addition, according to Trendsmap, the most popular link was shared by a fake account (currently suspended) using the name of the news portal “Infobae”, which published about the presenter’s supposed illness as if it were breaking news.

Like Tinelli, Federico Bal used his Twitter to clarify the situation. He stated: “on a social network, any irresponsible person can say anything, and many vehicles, also irresponsibly, take it as the truth”. “The authors disguise it as humor, but if there’s pain, it’s no humor.” In both cases, the number of retweets obtained by the denials (112 and 96, respectively) was lower than that of the most shared message.

It is important to note that each time a message is shared, it gets amplified. In addition, a study carried out in 2018 by three researches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States analyzed the activity on Twitter and found that content verified to be false gets shared faster than real content. In this case, we registered that 82% of the messages analyzed were retweets, and the most repeated word was “Coronavirus” (appearing in 57¨% of the tweets).

To prevent users from finding disinformative publications while searching for information on the topic, Facebook and Twitter have agreed, together with international health organizations, that upon searching for “Coronavirus” in these platforms, the first message must redirect users to WHO.

In turn, the Ministry of Health told Chequeado that, in cases such as this one, the networks are monitored in order to detect the existence of rumors, and deactivate it the moment something is published or their staff makes a public statement.

To avoid spreading the Coronavirus, WHO and the Argentinian State recommend: avoiding direct content with people with respiratory diseases; covering your nose and mouth with your elbow when coughing; maintaining frequent hygienic procedures of your hands, especially before eating or drinking and after touching surfaces in public areas.

* The Digital Democracy Room is a project of FGV DAPP in Brazil in partnership with Chequeado, Linterna Verde and Ojo Público. It’s goal is to monitor and analyze the digital conversations regarding the electoral context.

The analysis is available the website of Chequeado here.