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August 18, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 5:42am

Fact-checkers say reports on 800 deaths caused by Covid-19 ‘fake news’ are themselves ‘misleading’

By Freddy Mayhew

Fact-checkers have questioned the claim that at least 800 people globally might have died from fake news about the coronavirus.

UK-based fact-checking charity Full Fact has said several reports, which are based on a research paper published in the American Journal of Medicine and Hygiene, are themselves “misleading”.

The 800 figure relates to official figures on deaths in Iran caused by alcohol poisoning, of the more than 5,800 people hospitalised with it.

The BBC, Independent, Sun and Business Insider all reported the figure and linked it to the widespread myth that drinking methanol acts as a disinfectant to kill off Covid-19, which is not true.

But, according to Full Fact, the research paper “did not attempt to measure the total number of deaths around the world caused by misinformation about Covid-19” and relied on figures from other reports.

Full Fact said that even taking the numbers at face value “it isn’t clear whether misinformation played a part in these deaths”.

It said the journal paper took the figure from research that suggested some Iranians could have died from alcohol poisoning as a result of drinking what they believed was normal strength alcohol “for recreational purposes”.

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Full Fact said: “We certainly agree that bad information can be very dangerous. However, this report only provides weak evidence that these 800 deaths, or the 5,876 hospitalisations, really were the result of coronavirus misinformation.

“If we could measure the motives for every choice about the pandemic being made around the world – by governments and ordinary people, about what advice to give and whether to follow it – then the true number of misinformation deaths could be much higher than 800.

“This research, however, offers little evidence we can rely on.”

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