Misinformation, conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccine circulate on social media

Coronavirus

Here's a look at the misinformation currently circulating on social media

COVID-19 Vaccine

Credit: Andriy Onufriyenko/Moment/Getty Images

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines roll out across the country, so is misinformation and conspiracy theories about supposed dangers of getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

Here’s a look at the misinformation currently circulating on social media.

“Disappearing needles”

An out-of-context real video from the BBC has circulated social media, with vaccine conspiracy theorists claiming it shows proof that vaccines are fake and that recent events intended to increase public trust are staged.

The BBC explains that the clip is from a segment showing a health care worker using a safety syringe — needles that spring back inside the syringe after the shot to prevent accidental pokes.

The clip took off on Twitter and Facebook last week, with captions reading, “Disappearing needles!! There soo desperate, come on!!” and similar exclamations.

Many of the misinformed video posts have wracked up thousands of views, likes and shares.

Another video claiming to show a “disappearing needle” comes out of El Paso, when a male nurse received his vaccine. “Once the needle appears to go into his arm, the person giving the vaccine does not appear to push the plunger down,” several of the copy-pasted captions read.

“Alabama nurse died hours after getting the vaccine”

Another conspiracy theory is that a nurse or nurses in Alabama — or Arizona, depending on posts — died after being given the vaccine.

Unlike the “disappearing needles” rumor, this claim is based on even less “proof,” with users pointing to Facebook or Twitter posts with no photos, no videos and no links to evidence. One of the posts was put up before the actual vaccine had even been administered, as the BBC reports.

Facebook has removed many of the posts, but they continue cropping up using screenshots of previous posts.

Alabama Public Health released a statement last week, saying in part, “The posts are untrue, and no persons who received COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama have died.” They also said they’ve reached out to all state hospitals that administered the vaccine and no deaths were reported.

“People got Bell’s palsy after taking the vaccine”

While seven trial users did develop Bell’s palsy — which weakens or paralyzes facial muscles — after being vaccinated, the FDA says there’s no reason to believe the vaccine was the cause as it’s a common, and likely temporary, condition.

Four patients in the Pfizer vaccine trials also experienced Bell’s palsy at various times afterward, with the longest time period being over a month and a half.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders says about 25 to 35 people per 100,000 are expected to get Bell’s palsy each year. The seven who developed the condition is well below that average.

“Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine)’ video”

It’s allegedly “banned” online, but is available from a site claiming to be an alternative to YouTube — in actuality, it has been banned, but for spreading misinformation.

The video, according to BBC, claims there’s “not a real medical pandemic” and that the vaccine is unsafe because it was rushed into production.

The various “experts” all echo similar talking points, including claiming that “humans will be the guinea pigs” because animal trials weren’t done for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This is incorrect as well: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca have tested on animals.

Is it fake news?

Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring disinformation expert, says it’s important to look where an article or claim comes from.

For instance, the source of the “Ask the Experts” video can likely be a clue as to its legitimacy. Credible videos would be allowed on any number of social media sites.

“Promising low content moderation, sites like this have in the past months become a go-to place for those users kicked off major social media platforms for spreading misinformation,” Robinson says.

Cornell University Library has an entire section with resources on how to identify fake news, propaganda and misinformation.

Tips are:

  • Look for Unusual URLs. If they end in I-o or .com/co, it’s likely they aren’t legitimate.
  • Dissect the Layout. Look for grammatical errors, incorrect dates, bold claims with no sources and sensationalist images. These are red flags.
  • Dig Deeper. Who wrote the article? Who hosts/supports the website? Do other credible news outlets you recognize by name report the same thing?
  • Cross Check. Use fact checking sites to confirm information.
  • Try a reverse image search. If the same photo shows up in unrelated stories, be suspicious.
(Courtesy of Cornell University Library)

Additionally, it’s important to assess your own biases and the biases of the people sharing information you see.

And as always, it’s important to fact check before sharing anything.

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