President Donald Trump informed the country over Twitter of his positive coronavirus diagnosis at 12:54 a.m. on Friday. By morning, the internet was already rife with conspiracy theories and other misinformation. The frenzied speculation must stop: It feeds into the insidious “infodemic” environment that the president himself helped to create.
Experts warn that last week’s revelation is fertile soil for all sorts of opportunists to plant lies, especially ahead of an election. Adversaries abroad could attempt to destabilize democracy by suggesting, for example, an elite plot to replace the president on the ballot; domestic actors might cook up tales to serve their own partisan ends. Already, wild whispers have emerged from both sides of the political spectrum: that the White House is faking Trump’s illness to distract from other scandals, such as the release of the president’s troubling tax returns; or to avoid more damaging debates; or to “prove” after a speedy recovery that COVID-19 isn’t so bad after all. Now talk has turned to the severity of his case and the timeline surrounding its disclosure.