A falsified audio clip spreading COVID-19 misinformation is recirculating across social media platforms -- including Facebook -- despite substantial evidence proving it to be fake, which makes it a direct breach of Facebook’s Terms of Service policy.
The resurfaced audio file from last summer made several unsubstantiated claims about the origin of COVID-19, including the false notion that the pandemic was planned and that billionaires, such as Bill Gates and the Rockefeller family, were involved in manipulating events. The voice in the 14-minute clip was attributed to the president of Ghana, Nana Afuko-Addo, who was supposedly quoting a Rockefeller Foundation article.
Though the voice has a West African accent, it has been confirmed that it is not that of Afuko-Addo. Agence France-Press reported that it compared the video to clips of Afuko-Addo speaking and they were not the same, and that “Ghana’s Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah also confirmed to AFP that the audio recording was not made by the president, dismissing the claim that it was, as ‘obviously false.’”
Additionally, AFP found a Facebook post from May 2020 which predated the audio recording yet featured the same language and made no mention of the Ghanaian president.
This narrative has been spreading on Facebook despite clearly violating the platform’s terms of service. In a February update on its blog platform, Facebook wrote that it would expand the list of false pandemic-related assertions it would remove to include “additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines,” including “claims such as: COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured.”
Despite these guidelines, Media Matters has found several posts in private right-wing and anti-vaccine groups linking to this conspiracy theory within the past month. Additionally, despite the thorough debunk of the story, there are many posts from last summer, when the story first appeared, that are still publicly available on the platform.
Many of these posts linked to YouTube videos that either amplify the story or play the audio from the clip. Some of these videos have received tens of thousands of views. Despite having its own guidelines against COVID-19 medical misinformation, YouTube has no measures put in place to combat such false claims about the disease's origins on its platform.
This conspiracy theory has also gained notable traction on alternative platforms, such as Telegram. In a message from late February, a user began a message by writing, “Have you heard this? From the President of Ghana yesterday?” with a link to the audio file. This message was viewed over 183,000 times and has been forwarded within several private group messages.
On MeWe, an alternative platform often used to share right-wing conspiracy theories, users have linked to the audio and to a transcript of the document the “president” is supposedly exposing.
Even though there is concrete evidence proving the president of Ghana never gave this speech, these platforms are still allowing this dangerous story to run rampant. The lack of accountability regarding the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, especially in a situation in which it’s been repeatedly proven false, can leave people susceptible to falling for disinformation online -- particularly in some international communities where internet literacy may be challenging.