President Donald Trump has once again amplified a bogus coronavirus misinformation campaign -- this time by retweeting a QAnon supporter’s false claim against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that only 6% of recorded COVID-19 deaths are actually due to the disease, while the other 94% are falsified. While this conspiracy theory isn’t new, Trump has amplified and legitimized the false 6% narrative, and it is now spreading across major social media platforms while QAnon accounts celebrate and the CDC suffers.
The narrative Trump retweeted focused on the CDC’s update of comorbidity data, which shows “the types of health conditions and contributing causes mentioned in conjunction with deaths involving coronavirus disease.” The tweet shared by the president claimed that the CDC had “quietly updated” its earlier figures to show that “only 6% of all the 153,504 deaths recorded actually died from Covid,” while “the other 94% had 2-3 other serious illnesses,” implying that the CDC had covered up this fact.
But the CDC data update was not secretive or done “quietly” — it was published as part of a weekly update — and it simply provided additional details about reported COVID-19 fatalities. It distinguished COVID-19 deaths with no underlying health conditions (6%) from those of patients with underlying health conditions (94%). An underlying health condition does not inherently mean someone is on the brink of death, let alone that it is the primary cause of COVID-19 fatalities; for instance, an underlying health condition reported by the CDC can be diabetes, heart disease, or obesity (more than 42% of Americans are obese).
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had to push back against the conspiracy theory after Trump amplified it, saying, “The numbers that you’ve been hearing, the 180,000-plus deaths, are real deaths from COVID-19. Let there not be any confusion about that. It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180-plus thousand deaths.” But the false claim nevertheless gained traction on social media following Trump’s retweet. The CDC has since been flooded with calls and media requests about the conspiracy theory, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) has used the inflation myth to deny Iowa’s increasing COVID-19 cases.
Trump’s recklessness has again empowered the QAnon conspiracy theory — while simultaneously undermining the CDC
This is far from the first time that Trump has retweeted a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory or echoed a right-wing media attack against public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. But this latest example shows how the president’s amplification of false claims and dangerous misinformation helps them spread on social media.
QAnon and coronavirus conspiracy theorists alike celebrated Trump’s retweet. The CDC is once again faced with combating widespread misinformation promoted by the president, as the myth spread like wildfire across major social media platforms afterward.
The false 6% narrative is beneficial to Trump as it suggests the CDC has falsified its death tolls -- which are alarmingly high -- in order to hurt the president politically. This allows him to downplay his administration’s deadly mishandling of the pandemic.
Here’s how it spread on various platforms:
“Only 6%” began trending on Twitter after Trump retweeted misinformation about CDC statistics from “Mel Q,” a supporter of the violence-linked, pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory. Twitter eventually took down Mel Q’s tweet because it violated the platform’s terms of service, which have been updated during the pandemic “to address content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.” But the damage was already done: Trump’s retweet was a greenlight to coronavirus deniers, and it further empowered the online QAnon community.
- Daniel McCarthy, a former Republican candidate who recently ran for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, tweeted:
- Tim Pool, a frequent amplifier of far-right content and misinformation, tweeted:
- Major QAnon Twitter account @kate_awakening tweeted:
- Conspiracy theorist Ben Garrison tweeted:
- Right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted:
- Conservative media figure Kevin Sorbo tweeted:
- Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis tweeted:
- Jim Hoft, founder of the Gateway Pundit, tweeted:
- TheBlaze tweeted:
- Anti-LGBTQ pastor Greg Locke tweeted:
- Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis tweeted:
- @intheMatrixxx, a QAnon account with a major following, tweeted:
- Former Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens tweeted:
- Newsmax TV and Rebel Media host John Cardillo tweeted:
The 6% narrative also began circulating on Facebook after Trump’s retweet. Facebook has since included a fact check on some of these posts, noting at the bottom: “False Information. Checked by independent fact-checkers.” However, this has not prevented many of Facebook’s conservative pages and figures, ranging from Republican candidates to QAnon groups, from spreading the conspiracy theory. Some of the posts listed below have since been removed by Facebook for misusing the 6% statistic, but the majority remain on the website.
- The Tea Party Community by WJ on Facebook pushed the 6% claim and linked to far-right clickbait outlet The Western Journal:
- Tony Montaga, a Republican QAnon supporter also known as Antoine Tucker who is running as a write-in candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in New York against incumbent Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, posted: “Although all live count there were really less then 10k deaths! They play you all and destroyed your businesses! Wonder if the crazies on the left will say the truth 🤣🤣🤣 we know they are not!”
- Conspiracy theorist Eric Nepute posted a screenshot of Mel Q’s tweet: “Why is this not all over mainstream media...????? Here is the CDC link... have fun and take off your stupid mask. You know you’re only wearing it because somebody told you to… There’s no way and if you truly believe this can protect you.”
- KrisAnne Hall, a right-wing public speaker and attorney, posted: “CDC quietly updates their website to admit that only 6% of the deaths recorded as COVID can be attributed to the virus. The other 94% had an average of 2.6 other serious underlying health conditions. Another lie by the media & ”trusted" scientists revealed."
- Informed Mothers, an anti-vaccination Facebook page that has shared conspiracy theories related to QAnon, posted:
- The Facebook page QAnon - The Great Awakening posted:
- In Nevada, the Clark County Republican Party posted:
- Matt Nelson, a Republican candidate running for the California State Assembly, posted:
- Follow The White Rabbit, a popular QAnon Facebook page, posted:
The 6% narrative has already blown up on Instagram. A professional motocross rider posted a video in support of the 6% myth with over 100,000 views, and the hashtag #6percent has taken off, dominated by conservative conspiracy theorists and QAnon instagram accounts.
- Brian Deegan, a professional freestyle motocross rider, has an Instagram account with over 900,000 followers. Deegan posted a video in support of the 6% narrative which already has over 102,000 views and is the top result for the “#6percent” hashtag on Instagram.
“Are you seeing how important it is to do your own research and focus on your own health. The media has lied to you and continues and people still watch and believe.”
- The “#6percent” hashtag has not been banned on Instagram, and the conspiracy theory continues to spread through posts portraying COVID-19 as a “scam” or “hoax” and tagged with “#6percent.” Searching #6percent on Instagram leads to the posts below, highlighting just a fraction of the coronavirus misinformation that is actually being circulated on the platform:
A closer look at these posts show that many are explicitly affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, either with references to QAnon in their name or in the hashtags being used, including “#WWG1WGA,” a QAnon slogan meaning “Where We Go One, We Go All.”
The 6% narrative made its way to TikTok, with conservative users regurgitating Mel Q’s talking point. At least three viral videos are circulating on the platform, two of which were posted by QAnon-affiliated creators.
TikTok’s Safety Center explicitly states, “Our guidelines prohibit misinformation intended to deceive or mislead the public. While we encourage our users to have respectful conversations about the subjects that matter to them, we remove misinformation that could cause harm to an individual's health or wider public safety.” However, only one of the widely viewed TikTok videos below have been removed by the platform.
- In one 6% misinformation video with over 225,000 views on the platform, a user explicitly states that this is his sixth TikTok account because the site keeps banning him. “I’ve been telling everybody for the last two months that there’s only 9,000 deaths caused by COVID, not 150,000-plus. And guess what the CDC just reported today? This is from the CDC website, look at the red. They have mentioned that only 6% of COVID deaths were actually caused by COVID.” The account’s bio directs users to links, including a page called “THE FALL OF CABAL (Red Pill: Zer0) which leads to a QAnon YouTube primer.
- RealistAmerican, a right-wing TikTok account with over 153,000 followers, posted a 6% conspiracy theory video with Mel Q’s original tweet in the background. It has received 75,000 views.
TIKTOK USER: I find it absolutely nuts that nobody is talking about this. So, yes, this is a tweet, but I went to the CDC website and typed it into the filter. They’ve now updated direct COVID-19 with no other medical factors, direct, only from COVID-19 deaths, 9,200 out of 153,000, which is 6%.
- One popular teen user on the platform posted a 6% video to her more than 66,000 followers. The account regularly peddles far-right conspiracy theories, and the bio section mentions “Save our Children,” a QAnon-affiliated slogan.
Her video was viewed over 120,000 times in 12 hours, but has since been removed from TikTok.
TIKTOK USER: Well, I hate to break it to you all, but we were right again. Yesterday, the CDC released that out of the 153,504 people that they said died of COVID, only 6% of them actually died from COVID. That’s a total of 9,210 people. The other 94% had three other extremely chronic illnesses. So now that we can finally all unite on this, let's open back up America and take our masks off.