To describe the characteristics of fake news about COVID-19 disseminated in Brazil from January to June 2020.
The fake news recorded until 30 June 2020 in two websites (Globo Corporation website G1 and Ministry of Health) were collected and categorized according to their content. From each piece of fake news, the following information was extracted: publication date, title, channel (e.g., WhatsApp), format (text, photo, video), and website in which it was recorded. Terms were selected from fake news titles for analysis in Google Trends to determine whether the number of searches using the selected terms had increased after the fake news appeared. The Brazilian regions with the highest percent increase in searches using the terms were also identified.
In the two websites, 329 fake news about COVID-19 were retrieved. Most fake news were spread through WhatsApp and Facebook. The most frequent thematic categories were: politics (20.1%), epidemiology and statistics (e.g., proportion of cases and deaths) (19.5%), and prevention (16.1%). According to Google Trends, the number of searches using the terms retrieved from the fake news increased 34.3% during the period studied. The largest increase was recorded in the Southeast (45.1%) and the Northeast (27.8%).
The fake news spread during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil were characterized by political content as well as misinformation about the number of cases and deaths and about prevention measures and treatment. The main dissemination channels were WhatsApp and Facebook, with the use of messages, images, and videos, with greater reach in the Southeast and Northeast of Brazil.