PROVIDENCE, R.I.

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted an alleged video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, as the death toll in the United States hit 150,000 Wednesday, by the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. However, that number is based on total numbers and not per capita calculations. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

Hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier. Texas confirmed 313 additional deaths, pushing its total to 6,190, while South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month. In Georgia, hospitalizations have more than doubled since July 1.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem,” said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

None of that stopped Trump, who has repeatedly praised the drug, from retweeting the video. Twitter and Facebook began removing the video Monday for violating policies on COVID-19 misinformation, but it had already been seen more than 20 million times.

Many of the claims in Immanuel’s video are widely disputed by medical experts. She has made even more bizarre pronouncements in the past, saying that cysts, fibroids and some other conditions can be caused by having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government.

Other baseless theories and hoaxes have alleged that the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the United States or its adversaries. One hoax from the outbreak’s early months claimed new 5G towers were spreading the virus through microwaves. Another popular story held that Microsoft founder Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in all 7 billion people on the planet.

Then there are the political theories — that doctors, journalists and federal officials are conspiring to lie about the threat of the virus to hurt Trump politically.

Social media has amplified the claims and helped believers find each other. The flood of misinformation has posed a challenge for Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, which have found themselves accused of censorship for taking down virus misinformation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned about Immanuel’s video during an often-contentious congressional hearing Wednesday.

“We did take it down because it violates our policies,” Zuckerberg said.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat leading the hearing, responded by noting that 20 million people saw the video before Facebook acted.

“Doesn’t that suggest that your platform is so big, that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” Cicilline asked Zuckerberg.

It wasn’t the first video containing misinformation about the virus, and experts say it’s not likely to be the last.

A professionally made 26-minute video that alleges the government’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, manufactured the virus and shipped it to China was watched more than 8 million times before the platforms took action. The video, titled “Plandemic,” also warned that masks could make you sick — the false claim Facebook cited when it removed the video down from its site.

Judy Mikovits, the discredited doctor behind “Plandemic,” had been set to appear on the show “America This Week” on the Sinclair Broadcast Group. But the company, which operates TV stations in 81 U.S. markets, canned the segment, saying it was “not appropriate” to air.

This week, U.S. government officials speaking on condition of anonymity cited what they said was a clear link between Russian intelligence and websites with stories designed to spread disinformation on the coronavirus in the West. Russian officials rejected the accusations.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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(16) comments

Carlos Ponce

Talk about misinformation!

"The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted an alleged video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites."

First the retweet came from Donald Trump Jr., not President Trump.

Second, the video talked about a TREATMENT not a cure. And it came from AMERICAN doctors, based on AMERICAN studies. According to the video, hydroxychloroquine used in combination with other drugs is most effective when used early.

Yes "Misinformation on coronavirus is proving highly contagious" - but the misinformation comes from writers like David Klepper of the AP and printed in the GCDN.

Bill Broussard

As I read your comment I think it just

Might be true that alien DNA is put in by doctors at the moment of breeding.

Carlos Ponce

Bill, that information is not on the video. And you can readily identify those with alien DNA - they vote Liberal.

Bailey Jones

Another day, another Crazy Carlos comment to correct....

Talk about misinformation!

"Nobody needs to get sick. This virus has a cure - it is called hydroxychloroquine, I have treated over 350 patients and not had one death,"

“You don’t need masks, there is a cure.”

Did you even watch the video you're peddling?

On July 24th she tweeted, "The fear, the sickness, the deaths is so senseless and unnecessary. Covid19 has a cure..."

Carlos Ponce

"the video talked about a TREATMENT not a cure" is what I posted. The doctor used the word cure but it was actually a treatment. Her use of "cure" most likely was hyperbolic.

"Crazy Carlos"? I'll remember that next time you badmouth the president for using monikers.

Bailey Jones

OK, now you're just lying.

Carlos Ponce

Lying about what? That she should have used the word "treatment" not cure? That's why I posted "not a cure". If you saw the video you would notice her passion for what she was saying, hence the words she used were hyperbolic in nature. Is that a lie?

Bailey Jones

Ummm - yes, Carlos, that's a lie. Science doesn't allow "exaggeration". You taught math, 1 + 1 = 5: is that false, or an "exaggeration"? What else is she exaggerating, Carlos? 350 patients - truth, lie or "exaggeration"? Hasn't lost a patient - truth, lie or "exaggeration"? Erectile dysfunction caused by dream sex with chupacabras - truth, lie or "exaggeration"? How can you possibly tell - she's presented no research, no data, no case files, nothing, nada, zilch. And yet, you and your president are "very impressed with her" and see this ridiculousness as scientific evidence.

Can you not see how ignorant this makes you sound? Are you really so clueless that you can't see that every comment you make trying to twist this nonsense into a winning narrative makes you, your president, and conservatives in general, just look that much stupider?

It's a rhetorical question, no need to answer. Even Trumpy McDingbat had enough sense to walk away from this one.

Carlos Ponce

"350 patients - truth, lie or "exaggeration"? It is verifiable. The group think medicos say that information is anecdotal.

Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio rescinded his block of the use of hydroxychloroquine in his state.

Governor Mike DeWine @GovMikeDeWine

Therefore, I am asking the @OhioRxBoard to halt their new rule prohibiting the selling or dispensing of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

Governor Mike DeWine @GovMikeDeWine

I agree with the statement from Dr. Steven Hahn, Commissioner of @US_FDA, that the decision about prescribing hydroxychloroquine to treat #COVID19 should be between a doctor and a patient.

Brian Allen

Looks like the "miracle cure" did not work out so well for Herman Cain.

Carlos Ponce

What was his treatment? The only thing disclosed online was "oxygen treatment".

"At the time of publication, it’s not known if Cain was given hydroxychloroquine as part of his COVID-19 treatment. His social media sites often posted support for the medication, but the combination of medications being given to him while he was hospitalized has not been released. His website has only said that he was taking medications, but did not list which ones."

PD Hyatt

What is sad is that so many seem to NOT be able to think and reason on their own. CDC, Fauci and the MSM like GCDN have printed bogus information for a very long time and yet they are not be shut down like well respected Doctors are. Dr. Armstrong over the TC kept 39 patients out of the hospital because he used what Fauci and CDC says is not to be used. Many Doctors have been using the mix of drugs and people are get well fast. I feel for all who just believe what the MSM tells them....

Diane Turski

"Half human reptilians" working in government would explain a lot about the past three years of the Trump administration.

Gary Miller

MSM and democrats hate HDC because they think more deaths helps their quest for voters. One report I saw was that 8,000 patients 50 or older were studied from infection to recovery. HDC was administered and the death rate was cut in half compared with a different 8,000 50 and older patients. The 8,000 in the study group had no adverse side effects. No meaning none at all, "0". Where the treatment started within two days of first symthems the death rate was cut to less than 20 %. It is not a cure but is a very helpful treatment.

Bailey Jones

I'd love to see this study, Gary, because the ones I've seen say just the opposite.

Brian Allen

person, woman, man, camera, TV

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