Conspiracies, lies and sex tapes: How social media influencers faked the media into oblivion during the pandemic

Chris Brown, Woody Harrelson, MIA and Kim Kardashian are among celebs who shared misinformation and hoaxes about the pandemic on their social media

Conspiracies, lies and sex tapes: How social media influencers faked the media into oblivion during the pandemic
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The world is battling a raging pandemic that looks like it's going to be here a while, as it leaves a trail of damage in its wake with over 114,000 deaths worldwide, as per the John Hopkins tracker. As a precautionary measure and as a way to curb the spread of the viral disease, nations have been forced to go into lockdown and close their borders to foreign travel. People have been advised to stay at home, self-isolate and avoid venturing outside as much as possible. 

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In a time where we're homebound and petrified, the media has been the only source of information that has been keeping us regularly updated about the world amid this coronavirus lockdown. While it doesn't offer us much hope in terms of the virus disappearing anytime soon, it has been doing its part to warn and inform people about COVID-19. But it seems that its role in this whole pandemic ordeal is now at an increased risk of being supplanted. 

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Over the years the prominence of social media and the internet has indeed intensified, but the global lockdown has proved that for a fact. Everyone has taken to their social media platforms to raise awareness or preach of the contagion, in the last few weeks, but that hasn't necessarily yielded good results. If anything, the rise in social media usage has led to misinformation and the debunking of facts, which much like the disease itself, has spread like wildfire in the digital space. And the key contributors that have fueled this fire are celebrities, whose online presence has been more of a bane than a boon in this time of crisis. 

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Woody Harrelson, MIA (Getty Images)

For example, 'Zombieland' actor Woody Harrelson advocated a baseless claim about 5G's supposed connection with the spread of the pandemic. The claim was made popular by British rapper, MIA, across the pond, as well. It garnered extra attention in the UK to the point that Britons ended up vandalizing several mobile phone masts in the country. "They should just turn it off till after the pandemic," MIA captioned a picture of a burning mast on Twitter. 

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Celebrities and influencers have a significant presence in real life, but couple that with their online influence and they become the real mover and shakers — the go-to for people for almost anything. And they have once again instated their importance amid the pandemic with their entitled opinions about the disease but not necessarily in a good way. In the weeks following the lockdown, celebrity activity on the internet has escalated with the aim of spreading awareness of the disease. While they might be doing this with the best of intentions, they have been posting unchecked information that has generated panic among their legions of followers who've been misled by the messages. People tend to believe celebrities and influencers blindly, more so than news outlets that are quickly losing credibility, which is the root of the problem and has thus proved their maximum potential on opinion formation. 

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On April 7, a research conducted by Oxford's Reuters Institute for the study of journalism concluded that although politicians, celebrities and "other prominent public figures" were responsible for producing or spreading 20% of false information about coronavirus, their posts comprised 69% of total social media engagement. Felix Simon, one of the researchers involved confirmed to Insider that the "other prominent public figures" refer to social-media influencers. Even US President Trump's claims make up a massive chunk of the study's sample in the report. 

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Health officials across the world have repeatedly said that the generation of millennials will hold the titular role in helping curb the spread of COVID-19. Reddit and TikTok, in particular, are two online platforms that have blown up since the global lockdown was imposed. Users have varied between celebrities, influence and regular people who have gotten the world to connect and jumped on the bandwagon with daily challenges, pranks, and emotional safety warnings and have been trying to validate good thoughts as being influential. 

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“This small amount of people have a wide reach for the content that they are spreading,” said Scott Brennen, a fellow researcher at the Reuters Institute said to the Guardian, referring to the dissemination of false information by celebrity influencers. “The most common claims had to do with the policies and actions of public authorities, although we saw plenty of misinformation about the medical side.”

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Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have taken action to control the misinformation about coronavirus that is rapidly circulating and creating unnecessary panic. Furthermore, it has also acted on flagging disinformation on public groups and the handles of entertainers and famous celebrities, which has evidently reached people more effectively than the news sourced by media outlets who are struggling to retain their role as information providers. Brennen also said that the research into coronavirus disinformation underestimated the role of WhatsApp in the whole mix because researchers can find a few ways to illustrate the impact of the Facebook-owned service.  

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While America is struggling to cope, being the country worst affected by the pandemic, celebrities continue to profit in other ways. Many have taken to Instagram and Twitter to advise their followers to "stay indoors", "stay positive" and that "we are all in this together." Hoards of people flock onto live-stream sessions with celebrities, literally hanging onto every word they say that they end up forgetting these are delicate times, and our awareness is just as easy to manipulate and misuse. 

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Chris Brown's audio file debunked

Chris Brown attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Last month, Rapper Chris Brown uploaded an audio file to his Instagram Story, suggesting that the US will mandate a month-long quarantine period. Fans and followers used screen-recorded videos of Brown's upload and took to Twitter to relay the information, generating concern among fellow Americans. The audio features a woman who claimed she has friends in the US Pentagon and in various local and state governments. She said the federal government was going to impose a "shut down" and "quarantine" US citizens and people won't be allowed outdoors or to go away from home, even to buy groceries. The audio also elaborated that this unannounced quarantine is specific to New York City, but the local and federal authorities have rubbished the claims saying these steps won't be taken. Brown, who has 63.6 million followers on Instagram, has taken to his social media to post about coronavirus frequently, going as far to post-biblical verses and tying religion with the pandemic.

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Kim Kardashian shared a passage from a psychic's book

Kim Kardashian West of 'The Justice Project' speaks onstage during the 2020 Winter TCA Tour Day 12 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 18, 2020 in Pasadena, California (Getty Images)

The Kardashians have been quite active on social media during the coronavirus lockdown and Kim Kardashian, in particular, has been talking about the disease, day in and day out. Kardashian, who has around 65 million and 165 million followers on Twitter and Instagram respectively,  took to her social media to post an excerpt from the 2008 book 'End of Days', authored by self-proclaimed psychic, Sylvia Browne, that she said was passed on to her by her older sister, Kourtney. The passage in question is of a predicted illness that bears uncanny similarities to "severe pneumonia" which would spread around the world, possibly in 2020. The book also elaborated that the illness would "suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived", then return and disappear again a decade later. 

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Kelvin Peña tweeted misinformed prevention measures

Kelvin Peña, the viral animal-loving sensation, who goes by 'Brother Nature', tweeted to his 2.4 million followers a series of notes that contained misinformation about preventing yourself from contracting the virus. His tweet was picked up by Buzzfeed for being a hoax, and Peña deleted it soon after. The post claimed to have a compilation of advice from the member of the 'Stanford Hospital Board', but the information was not medically viable. Some of the bizarre claims said drinking hot water every few minutes could help flush the virus to your stomach where acids can kill it or that the coronavirus hates the sun and not to drink liquids with ice. 

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Michelle Phan on essential oils helping prevent COVID-19

When the spread of the coronavirus outbreak began being reported from around the globe, influencer and beauty guru Michelle Phan came forward to stake a claim on essential oils having antiviral benefits and helping prevent the coronavirus disease. This is misinformation, and there is also very little information that essential oils have any medical properties at all. However, Phan's claim became a trend, ending with her having an altercation on Twitter with Sandra Lee, aka Dr Pimple Popper. Lee tweeted that essential oils are in no way anti-viral, yet many other influencers and non-influencers have endorsed the product anyway.

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Ava Louise's 'coronavirus challenge' on TikTok

A 21-year-old college student from New Jersey went viral on TikTok after trending the 'coronavirus challenge' that garnered her a lot of hate. The video of Ava Louise licking a toilet seat in an airplane lavatory, went viral, leading many to believe that the action was actually part of an upcoming trend. Later in a YouTube video, she revealed that it was just something she made up to get attention. 

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