Some Things Never Change: Outbreak Disinformation

Disinformation associated with major outbreaks from 1980-2021

Outbreaks and M/Disinformation 1980-2021

HIV 1980 and 90s

Russian disinformation suggests the US created the HIV virus. Even Americans were pulled in by the stories.


“We are conducting a series of [active] measures in connection with the appearance in recent years in the USA of a new and dangerous disease, “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – AIDS”…, and its subsequent, large-scale spread to other countries, including those in Western Europe.”

handwritten letter by Soviet KGB agent September 1985

SARS 2002/03

SARS breaks out in late 2002 and disinformation follows swiftly.

Avian Flu 2005

Disinformation from Russia on influenza, vaccines, and bioweapons became popular between 2005 and 2010.

H1N1 2009

Disinformation narratives on H1N1 appeared following the first cases in early 2009.

Ebola 2012

M/Disinformation on the Ebola virus appears but takes off in 2014 following a large outbreak.

Zika 2016

M/Disinformation on the Zika virus appears in 2016.

Covid 2020/21

Covid disinformation seemed to spring forth immediately after the world became aware of its existence. The disinformation related to Covid was far more sophisticated and voluminous than past infectious disease-related efforts.

  • Hoaxlines database has 449 records for the keyword “Covid”

    • 365 records for “coronavirus”

    • 176 records for “vaccine” published after January 1, 2020

    • 242 records that contain “vaccin” ranging from 2001 to 2021

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