Twitter ‘super-spreaders’ shared bogus COVID-19 info with 3 million users

Most of the false or misleading posts have not been removed.

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A new report by NewsGuard says a handful of COVID-19 misinformation “super-spreaders” have shared false and misleading claims with more than three million Twitter users. The report identified 10 accounts with more than 100,000 followers each that promoted questionable cures, denounced social distancing and boosted conspiracy theories, like those linking 5G to coronavirus.

Two of the 10 accounts are verified, and all but one of the posts that NewsGuard looked at are still live. Not surprisingly, many of these misinformation “super-spreaders” are widely discredited conspiracy promoters, like David Icke. Several of the accounts have also shared info about the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory in the past.

In March, Twitter said it was stepping up its efforts to fight coronavirus misinformation. The company said it would ban tweets that perpetuate fake cures, deny expert guidance or spread information that could incite panic. It is rushing to verify more health experts, and it has pledged specifically to remove conspiracies linking 5G and coronavirus. But as social media platforms like Facebook have also discovered, fighting COVID-19 misinformation is not easy, and this new report suggests that Twitter is not doing enough to police “super-spreaders.”

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Even with Twitter’s promise to ban promotion of ineffective treatment, these accounts shared false studies claiming that hydroxychloroquine treatment has a 100 percent success rate and endorsements for licorice root and Zinc as virus cures. Some said social distancing was “ineffective,” and Icke posted that the virus was a scam.

In a statement provided to Engadget, a Twitter spokesperson said:

"We're prioritizing the removal of content when it has a call to action that could potentially cause harm. As we've said previously, we will not take enforcement action on every Tweet that contains incomplete or disputed information about COVID-19."

Twitter says it has removed more than 2,400 tweets since mid-March and “challenged 3.4 million potentially spammy accounts” related to COVID-19.

Update 5/7/2020 12:50PM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Twitter.

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