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Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Many of the coronavirus stories getting shared the most on social media are packaged to drive fear rather than build understanding about the illness, according to NewsWhip data provided to Axios.

Why it matters: Social media greases and amplifies dramatic headlines, while more functional or nuanced information gets squashed.

Details: The English-language story shared the most on Facebook since the outbreak began was "Coronavirus declared global health emergency" from the BBC.

  • Some of the other top-performing articles featured largely debunked claims, such as that the coronavirus came from bats and that it might have leaked from a laboratory.
  • One of the biggest dangers during this outbreak is the misinformation that has been spreading about the virus, experts say. (Here's a Foreign Policy article debunking the myth that it came from bat soup, and a Poynter article about the three waves of misinformation about the virus.)
  • Other top pieces used selective information and quotes, like exaggerated death toll predictions and descriptions of Wuhan, China as a "zombieland".
  • Of the top 50 stories about coronavirus since it entered the news this year, more have come from the Daily Mail (eight) than any other publisher. Second is the New York Post (three). Both publications are known for pumping up social media engagement with sensational headlines.
  • Even the more trivial headlines are sensational. The story that has generated the most total interactions (likes, comments, shares) is "A Disturbing Number of People Think Coronavirus Is Related to Corona Beer" — but the increase in Google searches for 'corona beer virus' cited in the article refers to a relative increase from before the virus rather than an actual number.

The big picture: Interest in the coronavirus has taken off in the last two weeks.

  • Since Feb. 20, the interactions on stories on social media have increased 7x.
  • Google searches have increased 8x, according to Google Trends data.
  • The number of cable news mentions has increased 3x, according to the Internet Archive Television News Archive.

New research from scientists at Northeastern University suggests that contagions can spread faster in some cases due to misinformation spreading online. 

  • "A link between social contagions and real biological contagions are a feature of modern outbreaks because of misinformation and fake news," says Samuel Scarpino, a business professor of network science at Northeastern University College of Science. 
  • Information spreading online provoked the U.S. surgeon general to make a statement Saturday urging people to "STOP BUYING MASKS!" because they are ineffective for the general public and are needed by health care providers.

The bottom line: "Social media presents a mixed bag," says Scarpino. "We know social media is promoting panic, and people are taking advantage of that by spreading misinformation, but it's also helping to spread good, reliable information that empowers people to make the right decisions.

  • "You want an appropriate level of concern but not panic."

Go deeper: Coronavirus "infodemic" threatens world's health institutions

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
6 mins ago - Science

A new NASA astronaut corps for the next era in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA's next crewed missions to the Moon will need a larger, differently-trained and multi-skilled astronaut corps to deliver on the agency's ambitions.

Why it matters: NASA has plans to fly astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2025 and ultimately establish a long-term presence there. That goal requires a robust corps with new, specialized training in what it takes to live and work on the Moon — and NASA needs to start planning now.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.

Distrust in political, media and business leaders sweeps the globe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Trust in government is collapsing, especially in democracies, according to a new global survey.

Why it matters: People also don't think media or business leaders are telling them the truth, and this suspicion of multiple societal institutions is pushing people into smaller, more insular circles of trust.