The Costs and Consequences of Disinformation

Rob Bole

From fringe to more mainstream, companies need to actively monitor dis- and misinformation as it arrives in our social and media feeds, so there is adequate time to quickly respond.

The Costs and Consequences of Disinformation

In times of crisis, we are increasingly seeing a significant portion of our online communications flooded with intentional disinformation. We are also seeing a surge in the unintentional dissemination of bad information, otherwise known as misinformation. As COVID-19 has become a global crisis, disinformation itself has reached epidemic proportions.
Here at Signal Group, we wanted to take a closer look and better understand the scale of the problem. We partnered with, an AI-based analytics firm, to map out key questions for brands of all types. Blackbird measured over 49.7 million tweets from 13.2 million unique users. They found that a staggering 37.95% of that traffic was “manipulated propaganda conversations.”
Our team at Signal has been tracking different types of disinformation which has helped propagate the sharing of bad information.
Fake Cures – In a health crisis, there will be people who take advantage of the lack of information to push a product or service by associating it as a preventative measure or even cure. At one extreme was a massive early spam campaign by an online religious guru, Saint Rampal Ji Maharaj, with the hashtag #NoMeat_NoCoronavirus.” Of the nearly one million tweets using this hashtag, a staggering 99.4% was inorganic botnet traffic. The U.S. had a similar quack theory with far-right QAnon conspiracy accounts promoting Miracle Mineral Solution, a bleach-based product that has been promoted by anti-vaccine advocates for years.
Conspiracy Theories – With COVID-19, the most visible conspiracy theory is whether this is a bio-engineered “China virus” or an “American virus.” Blackbird’s research found that, in a two-week period, over 700K tweets discussed whether COVID-19 was a bioweapon, with nearly a quarter – 23% – being inorganic manipulated content. Even without manipulated social media content, prominent national leaders are increasingly offering opinions on the origins of the COVID-19.
Hyped Misinformation – Another type of misinformation that may start as benign caution but grows into full blown misinformation is information that may have a kernel of truth. For example, on March 14th, the French minister of health, Oliver Veran, issued a statement warning about the use of ibuprofen or aspirin to treat COVID-19 symptoms. The information about ibuprofen’s potential harm to people infected with COVID-19 is not scientifically grounded. In fact, the World Health Organization is currently looking into the potential link to provide further guidance. While the original statement by the French minister of health was not disinformation – perhaps simply an overly cautious bit of misinformation – when there are gaps in consumer knowledge, especially at times of heightened health vigilance, ultimately those gaps can be filled with dis- or misinformation that can have significant impacts in the marketplace, and on public health.
From the fringe to the more mainstream, companies need to actively monitor dis- and misinformation as it arrives in our social and media feeds so there is adequate time to quickly respond. In addition, company marketing leadership must be aligned with legal, regulatory, and medical guidance to ensure product claims are based in defensible fact. While this will not impact the vast majority of responsible companies, it is important that legal takes a lean forward position and that businesses operated with heightened vigilance.
This blog post derived from a webinar that Signal Group and Wiley held on March 26th entitled Coronavirus Disinformation: Costs and Consequences for Brands and Companies. You can find the webinar at this link.
For more information on how your company can monitor for disinformation or misinformation affecting your sector, brand or products please contact me at

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