Twitter, Instagram Rife with Fake Covid-19 Studies and Product Ads

Aug 26, 2020
Protective Gear Mask Gloves
Image credit: Pixabay.com

Researchers have found that thousands of social media posts on popular platforms Twitter and Instagram were tied to financial scams and possible counterfeit goods specific to Covid-19 products.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, has identified nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings (from March to May) likely linked to fake Covid-19 health products, financial scams, and other consumer risk.

“We started this work with the opioid crisis and have been performing research like this for many years in order to detect illicit drug dealer,” said study author Timothy Mackey from the University of California San Diego in the US.

“We are now using some of those same techniques in this study to identify fake Covid-19 products for sale,” Mackey added.

The fraudulent posts came in two waves, focused on unproven marketing claims for prevention or cures and fake testing kits.

“Now, a third wave of fake pharmaceutical treatments is now materializing and will worsen when public health officials announce development of an effective vaccine or other therapeutic treatments,” the researchers said.

The team identified suspected posts through a combination of Natural Language Processing and machine learning. Topic model clusters were transferred into a deep learning algorithm to detect fraudulent posts.

The findings were customized to a data dashboard in order to enable public health intelligence and provide reports to authorities, including the World Health Organization and US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

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“We recommend that anyone concerned of contracting Covid-19 or hoping to be tested first work with their personal health care provider or local public health agency to ensure safe access to testing or treatment, and report any suspicious activity to federal authorities,” said Mackey.

“Our hope is that the results from this study will better inform social media users so they can better decipher between fraudulent and legitimate posts,” the study author noted.

Earlier this month, Interpol had said that online sale of fake medical supplies, drugs and personal protective equipment, and exploitation of teleconference tools are the major Covid-19 cybercrime trends in Asia.