In May, a team of researchers at the University of Wolverhampton, Free University (Netherlands) and the Meertens Institute (Netherlands) launched online surveys to understand the impact of fake news on the general public in the UK and in the Netherlands during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Anglo-Dutch research project, which includes a fake news test, received widespread coverage in the Netherlands and was featured on BBC’s Digital Planet.
After engaging more than 1,000 respondents, the researchers are now analysing the data, looking at some of the strangest mis- and disinformation that has been circulating in the UK and the Netherlands.
Professor Bas Groes from the School of Humanities at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “When looking at the data we have found conspiracies involving caterpillars, petrol stations, facial recognition technology, BREXIT, and World War III, amongst others.
“Our survey has given us a fascinating insight into how fake news can be created and perpetuated and, what’s even more interesting, is how and why people believe the stories.”
Professor Mike Thelwall, Professor of Data Science at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “These fake stories are highly varied and some are surprisingly specific. In most cases, the stories have elements that match reality, even if they are not true.
“I particularly like the Oak Processionary caterpillar story because it is so bizarre.”
Professor of Folktales and Narrative Culture at the Meertens Institute in the Netherlands, Theo Meder, said: “For folk narrative researchers, all these fake news stories and conspiracy theories are part of a genre called contemporary legends. Every once in a while you can even see satirical fake news being taken seriously by some people. A lot of the really serious modern folktales have a basis of distrust in the elite by people. They expect politicians, scientists and journalists to have a hidden and evil agenda that is systematically being covered up.”
The top five Weirdest Fake Corona News discovered by the C-TRUTH team of researchers are as follows:
1 – Caterpillars
“The Oak Processionary caterpillar plays a role in the spread of the coronavirus. (Via Facebook).” This news has been circulating in the Netherlands, a country plagued by this caterpillar whose hairs cause a stinging sensation on the skin and their eyes. This story actually goes back to a satirical site in the Netherlands: In this case, satire gets mistaken for rumour or news. The reactions below the article show that some people laughed, whilst other people were confused about whether this story is true or not. The article mentions that the caterpillars support the 5G emission with their antenna-like hairs.
2 – Aliens
“COVID-19 was spread by aliens to thin out and/or eliminate the earth’s population”.
H.G. Wells has a lot to answer for. His novel War of the Worlds (1898), in which Martians invade earth to destroy humans only to be defeated by earthly pathogens, continues to spark the imagination during this bewildering situation.
3 – Facial recognition technology and social distancing
Social distancing is a conspiracy so that cameras with facial recognition software can more easily recognise people to monitor them.
4 – Conspiracy Theorists: Icke and Ossebaard
Some followers of UK-based David Icke and Dutch Janet Ossebaard believe there is a secret elite of Illuminati, consisting of the 1% richest people that form a shapeshifting lizard community (the reptilians) who want to rule the world and establish a New World Order, enslaving the rest of humanity in a dictatorship.
5 – Money laundering/black market economy
A respondent said: “Banks want to get rid of cash money”. In the event that only digital money exists, banks would ‘own’ everybody’s capital (banks are part of the conspiracy to gain world domination). No one could own cash on the side to rule his/her own life. Banks will have full power over your credits and credit cards.
The researchers also found some UK-specific fake news stories, including Brexit:
1. BREXIT delays due to COVID-19 are created by the EU because Europe is needing cash from the UK. (Seen on Twitter)
2. God will make the virus go away after 70 days.
3. Someone accused the crisis to be a ruse by Germany in order to start a Third World War – with BREXIT being our declaration of war. Another story went: COVID-19 was developed by Russia to start WWIII. (Seen on Twitter)
4. The Corona crisis was designed to destabilise the Middle East by disrupting oil production. Related: Petrol pumps are a particular problem for passing on COVID-19. (Passed on via local WhatsApp group).
The research team invites members of the general public to participate in the “Fact or Fake” surveys. You can take the test here: https://nquire.org.uk/mission/covid-19-fact-or-fake/contribute.