In Fast-Moving Pandemic, Sources of Falsehoods Spread by Text, Email, WhatsApp and TikTok
Misleading text messages claiming that President Trump was going to announce a national quarantine buzzed into cellphones across the country over the weekend, underscoring how rapidly false claims are spreading — and how often it is happening beyond the familiar misinformation vehicles of Facebook and Twitter. The false texts spread so widely that on Sunday night the White House’s National Security Council, fearing the texts were an attempt to spook the stock market as it opened Monday, decided to directly debunk the misleading claims in a Twitter post: “Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown.” But by then the messages already had spread widely, as had similar ones both in the United States and Europe in recent days. Text messages, encrypted communication apps such as WhatsApp and some social media platforms have carried similarly alarming misinformation, much of it with the apparent goal of spurring people to overrun stores to buy basic items ahead of a new wave of government restrictions.
The one claiming that Trump was going to impose a national quarantine included the advice: “Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward to your network.” In fact, authorities have warned against aggressive buying that could disrupt supply chains and fuel panic. Trump addressed the misleading text messages at an afternoon news conference Monday, saying, “It could be that you have some foreign groups that are playing games.” On the possibility of a national quarantine, Trump said: “We haven’t determined to do that at all. … Hopefully we won’t have to.”