Disinformation

The Infodemic: Conspiracy in Nigeria; fake train subsidies in India, and why Dominic Cummings can’t trend on Twitter

Welcome back, and a very special welcome to all our new subscribers. The Infodemic is Coda’s pop up newsletter, designed to help you understand how the global spread of coronavirus disinformation is shaping the pandemic response. 

With violence in Minneapolis and Twitter’s decision to go to war with Trump, this is an astonishing news day, but here are four things we’ve spotted that still deserve our attention .

A debate about vaccinations is heating up in Nigeria, and it is laced with conspiracy theory. It was triggered by a draft law that would make vaccinations mandatory. The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, according to some accusations, is designed to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for foreign powers. 

“We must save Nigerians from Death Sentence being orchestrated by the Western World…” reads this tweet.

Dozens of articles and posts are suggesting that “American Computer Czar”  — you guessed it, Bill Gates — has offered the Nigerian government 10 million dollars “to influence the speedy passage of the bill.” Colleagues in Nigeria, who I’ve spoken to, say that two things make the country especially susceptible to conspiracy theories.

  • The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill is rushed and sloppily put together. This, coupled with a general lack of trust in the government, makes people suspicious. Here is a piece that unpicks the proposed legislation and its many problems
  • Nigerians have good reason to fear that they could be used as guinea pigs. Only a month ago, two French doctors appeared on the French news channel LCI to discuss a BCG tuberculosis vaccine undergoing clinical trials for Covid-19 in the Netherlands and Australia. 

“If I could be provocative, should we not do this study in Africa, where there are no face masks, no treatments and no ICUs? A bit like it is done for some studies on AIDS, where with prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and they don’t protect themselves” said Dr. Jean-Paul Mira, head of ICU services at the Cochin Hospital in Paris. 

“You are right,” Dr. Camille Rocht  replied, adding, “We are in the process of thinking about a study in Africa”
 
Context: The two French doctors were slammed on social media and by Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who described the conversation as a “hangover from a colonial mentality.” It has since been cited as proof of conspiracies about Western plots to spread disease in Africa. Such comments also bring back painful memories of Nigeria’s own past experience with Pfizer, when 11 children died in a controversial meningitis drug trial in 1996. 

Remember the dramatic pictures of millions of Indians walking home along highways amid a transportation shutdown? Now, the Indian Supreme Court has effectively got Narendra Modi’s government to admit to lying about measures taken to help them.

  • On March 24, tens of millions of migrant workers were left stranded when Modi gave the country just four hours’ notice before putting the brakes on the economy and stopping all transport
  • The resulting exodus has killed hundreds, including a 12-year-old girl, who walked for three days before dying of exhaustion, just six miles from home
  • Eventually, after weeks of public pressure, the government said it had arranged subsidized rail transportation for those affected. But that wasn’t true — thousands of people reported paying full fare

The follow-up: The issue became so controversial that the Supreme Court decided to look into it, ruling on Thursday that migrants, forced to travel because of already desperate circumstances, should not be charged any fare whatsoever. The decision also forced Modi’s government to admit that it was paying no part of the fares.

Covid-19 is actually a bacteria that is amplified by electromagnetic 5G radiation and can be treated with aspirin. This message has proliferated across social media in France. The latest posts even attribute these alleged findings to the Italian Ministry of Health. 

  • It all started with a Facebook post, published by an Italian cardiologist, suggesting that the real cause of death from Covid-19 is not pneumonia, but thrombosis 
  • His post was picked up, translated into French, Spanish, English and Portuguese, and modified, with new details and alleged findings attributed to various supposed experts. A number of fact-checking outlets have flagged these posts as disinformation
  • Fake news whispers eventually turned an Italian cardiologist into the country’s Ministry of Health. We checked, just in case — and, no, Italy’s health ministry has not linked Covid-19 to 5G radiation 

Context: Just before the pandemic we reported on a little-known movement and one of its leaders — a man armed with a radiation detector, huddled in the basement of his Zurich home, the only place he believed he was safe from the electromagnetic waves of mobile networks. Then the pandemic happened, and the previously fringe anti-5G movement went into overdrive. Since then, it has picked up millions of converts across the globe. Among them are dozens of celebrities, who now promote to millions of social media followers the theory that 5G is to blame for the spread of Covid-19.   

And just before you go: did you follow the scandal surrounding the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, who broke lockdown rules? 
 
If you get your news from Twitter, you might have missed it. Despite all the juicy headlines Cummings never trended on Twitter. Here’s a fun little video that explains why.
 
And, if you find yourself looking for something to fill your time with this weekend, here’s a survey for you to complete — it’s quick, easy and helps us. Then explore more of our journalism at codastory.com
 
Thank you see you next week!

Natalia 

P.S. It takes a team to bring you this newsletter: Ariam Alula, Isobel Cockerell, Sasha Tyan and Gautama Mehta contributed to this one! 

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.

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Natalia Antelava

Natalia Antelava is the Editor-in-Chief of Coda Story.

Get in touch via [email protected]

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