Disinformation

Infodemic — Fake meds in Nigeria, ozone necklaces in Ukraine and online Covid-19 survivor groups

Welcome. We are tracking how disinformation is shaping the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, from Nigeria to Ukraine, Coda’s Isobel Cockerell brings you the latest narratives — both real and fake — that have grabbed our attention and deserve yours.

Sign up for the Infodemic, tracking Covid-19 disinformation

In Nigeria, experts are concerned that the sale of fake pharmaceuticals is on the rise, as the country struggles to keep up with demand for imported pharmaceuticals and PPE. Nigeria has now been flooded with dodgy protective gear and pseudoscientific treatments, aimed at panicked and desperate buyers. “There is indiscriminate hawking of medicines in public places and the open markets, motor parks, buses and along the streets,” Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibo, chairman of the National Association of Pharmacists told the Nigeria Guardian this week. 

Former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, has been seen wearing a personal “ozone” necklace, which he claims is protecting him from Covid-19. Kravchuk did not specify what the device was — just that it was “made by the Americans.” In an interview with the online newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, he said, “It runs on battery power, the ozone is charged, the air is constantly coming out and killing germs. I’m sitting here, and the ozone has killed all the germs around us — at least I hope so.” There is absolutely no evidence to support his claims. I’ve written about air purifier necklaces before: they are useless against Covid-19. The World Health Organization also classifies ozone as a toxic substance. 

The government of Turkey is suppressing the nation’s coronavirus infection numbers, according to doctors at the Turkish Medical Association, who have described the pandemic as “out of control.” The head of the association estimated that the health ministry’s official countrywide count of about 1,500 daily cases is closer to being the number in Ankara alone, where Covid-19 wards are full. The president of the group has also called for the health minister’s resignation in an interview on Ahval News TV.

Sign up for the Infodemic, tracking Covid-19 disinformation

Down the rabbit hole of Facebook’s Covid-19 survivor groups

Over the past week, I’ve been delving into a huge network of Facebook groups for the ever-growing number of people who have recovered from the coronavirus. They’re full of strange, sad and desperate stories. 

Corona Recovered Warriors, a Pakistan-based group with more than 330,000 members, now hosts constant appeals for blood plasma with Covid-19 antibodies. Another international group is devoted to discussing the potential stigma of being a coronavirus survivor. “At first it was fascination, now it’s judgment,” wrote one young woman, describing how people blamed her for catching the illness. 

One group for people with Covid-19-related anosmia has more than 6,600 members, many of whom haven’t been able to smell or taste anything since contracting the virus back in March. The group makes for fascinating and terrifying reading. People report the most mysterious of symptoms, with some saying that everything tastes like petrol, or that they are followed around by the odor of old socks. The group is run by AbScent, a UK charity for people with the condition. Its admins regularly conduct polls of members.

Like many coronavirus-related Facebook groups, the sense of trust between participants sometimes outweighs their faith in scientists and doctors. 

“Is it worth speaking with doctors? Have they tried to help anyone?” wrote one member over the weekend. 

“No help at all,” replied another. 

“My Dr didn’t know much about it,” said a third. “I felt so alone until i joined this group.” 

Pseudoscience posts have also started to creep into the daily conversation. One member, who claimed to be a physician from Mexico, recommended taking an “ocean water solution infused with copper.” Another very long thread discussed the viability of a vaccine, and whether members would take it. Dozens said they wouldn’t. 

“I don’t think so, as I have antibodies,” wrote one user. 

“My body made its own vaccine,” replied another.

Hungry for more?

The US and Brazil together account for almost 40% of the world’s coronavirus cases. Last week, Isabela Dias reported from the coastal city of Itajaí in southern Brazil, where doctors and public officials are promoting an unproven drug, which they claim will protect citizens against Covid-19. Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, beaches were packed out this weekend and Brazilian news outlets ran with the headline “Is the pandemic over?”

If you feel like another trip into the social media underworld, read my two-part dive into how the speeches at the Republican National Convention were dynamite for QAnon.

That’s it from me until Friday, when Gautama Mehta takes over. Katia Patin and Achi Tsitsishvili contributed to this one. And, as always, hit reply anytime if you have tips, questions or feedback.

Thanks for reading,

Isobel Cockerell 

Reporter, Coda Story

The story you just read is a small piece of a complex and an ever-changing storyline we are following as part of our coverage. These overarching storylines — whether the disinformation campaigns that are feeding the war on truth or the new technologies strengthening the growing authoritarianism, are the crises that Coda covers relentlessly and with singular focus. We work with dozens of local and international reporters, video journalists, artists and designers to bring you stories you haven’t seen elsewhere, provide you with context missing from the news cycle and illuminate the continuity between the crises we cover. Support Coda now and join the conversation with our team. No amount is too small.

Support Coda

Isobel Cockerell

Isobel Cockerell is a reporter with Coda Story. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she has also reported for WIRED, USA Today, Rappler, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others.

Get in touch via [email protected] Follow @isocockerell