Covid rumours packaged and spread

There has been a lot of talk about how Covid rumours and conspiracies have been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks, including by politicians (particularly Gerry Brownlee and Winston Peters).

Dylan Reeve tracked down who packaged rumours that seems to have led to a viral spread of racist bull. The aim was to understand how it happened rather than to out the Reddit poster and wreck his life (he seems to be suffering a lot as it is).

Post by David Farrier.

Webworm talks to the man who started the COVID-19 outbreak rumour in New Zealand

Today is a long newsletter, and it involves a conversation with the man who started a rumour / conspiracy theory that spun out of control over the weekend here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

My colleague Dylan Reeve tracked him down, and called him. The man had been half expecting a call:

I have been in this fight-or-flight mode for the last 48 hours. I just realised how bad it was on Saturday, which is when I went in and tried to clean up as much as I could, but by then it’s got a life of its own.

It’s my hope that in talking with Patient Zero of a conspiracy theory, we can understand a little more how they spread, and the victims they leave in their wake.

An interesting interview with ‘James’ followed, which includes:

So we got into lockdown on Tuesday night, and then there was a bunch of chat on the 12th, everyone was all over the place and a couple of mates had a discussion.

There was some talk from a friend from Auckland Uni, and some other people had mentioned to me as well, related around somebody sneaking into a managed isolation. 

So it was basically – I made a poor decision to put that in writing on Reddit. 

I realised a couple of hours later and removed it as much as I could, and by that stage it had been used in screen shots.

But that was too late. It had been picked up, repackaged with some fairly racist overtones, and it went viral.

Most of what spreads on the Internet stays on the Internet, but this prompted a respnse from the Minister of Health and the Director-General of Health: Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield slam spreading of ‘vile’ rumours about latest Covid-19 cluster

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has urged New Zealanders to stop spreading unverified rumours, after one particular rumour “spread like wildfire” on social media.

Hipkins said the rumour contained a number of “vile slurs”.

“Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong,” Hipkins said.

“Please think twice before sharing unverified information”

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield also weighed in, saying that people in the Māori and Pacific communities had done more than their share for the community by coming forward to get tested at higher rates than other groups in New Zealand during the first outbreak, despite having lower rates of infection.

“There should be nothing in the description of this outbreak that suggests that there is anything about this community that is a problem,” Bloomfield said.

“They have been incredibly co-operative and incredibly supportive and we should all be thanking and supporting them.”

The particular rumour involved the claim that a woman in the current cluster contracted the virus by sneaking into a managed isolation facility, Hipkins said.

“It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false,” Hipkins said.

He said the rumour may have been orchestrated.

“There have always been and will always be rumours, but this one smacked of orchestration [and] of being a deliberate act of misinformation”.

Hipkins said his warning applied to everyone, including his Cabinet colleagues. This could be awkward for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who this week shared an unverified rumour about the latest cluster coming through a border breach.

“I think all ministers, all MPs, and all leaders in the community should lead by example and be cautious about the information that they choose to share,” Hipkins said.

Peters claimed that a ‘reliable journalist’ was his source.

Related to this from Newsroom: ‘Infodemic’ evolves as Covid-19 returns to NZ

Last Tuesday night, as Jacinda Ardern revealed that four people in Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19 and the city would be going into Level 3 lockdown, social media appeared to erupt with conspiracy theories.

These ranged from false claims about the Government’s response to outlandish theories about the origins or seriousness of the virus. They were spread on all levels, from concerned grandparents posting to their Facebook friends lists to Instagram influencers sharing to tens of thousands of followers.

Politicians got in on the game as well – independent MP Jami-Lee Ross and former guitarist Billy Te Kahika Jr. recorded a livestream heavy on conspiracy theory that garnered more than 100,000 views and critics accused National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee of dog-whistling to the same conspiracists during a press conference the next day. Brownlee later said he had got himself into a “bad spot” with his misjudged comments.

But a leading conspiracy theory researcher says the prevalence of misinformation about the pandemic online has not changed in the past week. The tone, however, may have. What threat might this misinformation pose? And what can – or should – New Zealand be doing about it?


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  1. John J Harrison

     /  18th August 2020

    Hipkins and Bloomfield are quiet correct to slam “ vile rumors.“
    The greatest vile rumor is Ardern’s claim that we have been Covid free for 102 days – the longest in the world.
    Totally untrue.
    Perhaps she, or a Labour luvvie can explain how two unrelated NZ citizens travelled AKL to SYD early last month on two separate flights , both testing positive for Covid on arrival by professional Australian health officials.
    Neither arrived in AKL from an overseas flight before flying to Sydney.
    Clearly, we were never Covid free at any time during that period.
    Additionally, testing numbers fell through the floor during this period.
    If you don’t test you don’t pick up what you don’t want to know.

    • Blazer

       /  18th August 2020

      ‘ two unrelated NZ citizens travelled AKL to SYD early last month on two separate flights , both testing positive for Covid on arrival by professional Australian health officials.’


      • Duker

         /  18th August 2020

        Thats just a rumour … The only confirmed case of a person leaving NZ and being tested positive in another country and that was the Korean man. They asked for and got a re test to confirm.
        Those Sydney women appear to be ‘self diagnosed’ attention seekers…

        • Duker

           /  18th August 2020

          I got the self diagnosed wrong

          No 1..Transit from LA.
          “Ministry first addressed the case of a woman who transited through Auckland from Los Angeles to Sydney on July 6.”
          No 2 Virus remnants
          The second investigation involved a woman who travelled from Auckland to Sydney on July 20.
          “, it appears this may have been a previously undetected case from March or April, which is likely to have led to the positive test result.”
          In this case the woman had been ill when returning from overseas back in March and it’s believed remnants of the virus may have been detected from this.”

          Arrives in NZ from overseas and was ill, some months later travels again to Australia. Not really active anymore

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  18th August 2020

    I’m supposed to get excited about something someone says on FB? Or surprised that the world is full of idiots?

    • The first, possibly, as it is so damaging. The wording alone made it obvious that the breaking in story and/or the boyfriend breaking out was an invention; the style was wrong for a news item and there was too much extraneous detail. Liars too often feel that they have to add this for verisimilitude.

      I heard someone in the street saying that there was a case in Reefton. Yeah, right.

  3. Duker

     /  18th August 2020

    “rumours and conspiracies have been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks, including by politicians (particularly Gerry Brownlee and Winston Peters).

    So its still flogging the dead horse over Peters.

    He is the latest to ‘spread Peters rumours’
    The origin of the cluster remains a mystery. But Bloomfield said authorities believed it was transmitted through the border “somehow”.

  4. duperez

     /  18th August 2020

    The ease of spreading rumours when there are malevolents and simpletons:

  5. alloytoo

     /  18th August 2020

    The government desperately continues to push the “Cold store” narrative.

  6. sunny

     /  18th August 2020

    I’m with Gerry Brownlee on this one. The govt spinning their 100 days Covid free and then telling us all to get a mask and expect a second wave didn’t make sense and had a healthy stink about it. He was right to ask the question.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  18th August 2020

    10 Barkung Mad Covid rules (NZ makes the list):


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