Misinformation about COVID-19 purporting to come from Johns Hopkins is circulating widely online, including one particular message described as an "excellent summary" that has been shared extensively worldwide in the past few weeks.
The message, which has no identifiable connection to Johns Hopkins, includes approximately 20 bullet points, the first of which begins "The virus is not a living organism … ." It is sometimes attributed to a Johns Hopkins doctor, or immunologist, or to "Irene Ken, whose daughter is an Asst. Prof in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University."
The information, which is being widely shared via email and on social media, has been reviewed by the popular online fact-checking resource Snopes and labeled "misattributed." A Johns Hopkins statement says the message "lack[s] credibility."
"We have seen rumors and misinformation circulating on social around the coronavirus and have received questions from many of you about these posts," Johns Hopkins Medicine said in a statement. "Rumors and misinformation like this can easily circulate in communities during a crisis. The rumors that we have seen in greater volumes are those citing a Johns Hopkins immunologist and infectious disease expert. We do not know the origin of these rumors and they lack credibility."
Experts suggest that when evaluating information you find online, confirm that it comes from a trusted source—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Infection, the World Health Organization, or a reputable news organization—before sharing it. If a post makes a scientific or medical claim and attributes it to a specific source, such as Johns Hopkins, try verifying the information through the organization's publicly available resources.
"If you see something on social media and you want to take action based on it, it is important to first check whether a trusted source, such as a local newspaper, has reported that information," says Mark Dredze, an associate professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins who studies how information circulates via social media. "Be skeptical and consult a trusted authority. Go to the websites of the CDC or local public health authorities, and check if it's something they recommend. If it's something medically related, consult with your doctor."
Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, studies misinformation and rumors in response to public health events. She shared her expertise in a recent episode of the Johns Hopkins podcast Public Health On Call.
"There are a number of things that can be harmful about [misinformation]," she said. "People can waste their money, people can think they're protected when they're not protected and take risky actions they shouldn't be taking, and sometimes these [fake] cures can harm people themselves."