Many newspapers with paywalls have lowered them for some or all of their coronavirus coverage. Many scientific publishers made scientific papers related to the outbreak available with open access. Some scientists chose to share their results quickly on preprint servers such as bioRxiv.
After the initial outbreak, conspiracy theories and misinformation spread online regarding the origin and scale of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Various social media posts claimed the virus was a bio-weapon, a population control scheme, or the result of a spy operation. Facebook, Google and Twitter announced that they would take stringent measures against possible misinformation. In a blog post, Facebook stated they would remove content flagged by leading global health organizations and local authorities that violates its content policy on misinformation leading to “physical harm”.
On 2 February, the WHO declared there was a “massive infodemic” accompanying the outbreak and response, citing an overabundance of reported information, accurate and false, about the virus that “makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”. The WHO stated that the high demand for timely and trustworthy information has incentivized the creation of a direct WHO 24/7 myth-busting hotline where its communication and social media teams have been monitoring and responding to misinformation through its website and social media pages. The WHO has specifically debunked as false some claims that have circulated on social media, including that a person can tell if they have the virus or not simply by holding their breath; that drinking lots of water will protect against the virus; and that gargling salt water will prevent infection.
Taiwanese authorities accused the 50 Cent Party‘s internet trolls of spreading disinformation online to sow fear and panic among Taiwanese. Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being the CIA‘s creation to keep China down spread across the Chinese internet. Possibly prompted by a press conference on 27 February where Zhong Nanshan, a prominent expert, said that “the coronavirus first appeared in China but may not have originated in China”, individual officials have echoed Xinhua’s claim that “The WHO has said many times that COVID-19 is a global phenomenon with its source still undetermined.” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted in March 2020 that the disease may have been introduced by members of the American Army who visited Wuhan in October 2019. In a move which third party commentators consider state propaganda to deflect blame for poor handling of the epidemic, some officials, including a foreign ministry spokesman, as reported by the state news agency Xinhua, have protested at alleged “politicisation” of the outbreak by countries. Commentators also consider the state propaganda is promoting a narrative that China’s authoritarian system is uniquely capable of curbing the coronavirus and contrasts that with the chaotic response of the Western democracies.
US President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and some members of the United States Congress have been accused of giving misinformation about the coronavirus. Some Indian politicians from Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that drinking cow urine and applying cow dung on the body can cure coronavirus. On 22 February, US officials said that they have discovered Russia-linked social media accounts deliberately promoting anti-American conspiracy theories, such as “waging economic war” on China, which was denied by Russia.
Iranian cleric Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi accused US President Donald Trump of targeting Qom with coronavirus to fulfill his previous promise of retaliation against Iranian cultural sites. Iran’s Press TV asserted that “Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran”, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the US created “a special version” of the virus that was affecting the country. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, numerous writers in the Arabic media have promoted the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was deliberately created and spread by the United States, as “part of an economic and psychological war waged by the US against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases”.