Spreading misinformation: Monkeypox, COVID-19 conspiracy theories follow similar patterns online

By Kelsey Patterson

Conspiracy theories about monkeypox shared online and on social media follow the same trends as COVID-19 misinformation, according to Alberta researchers.

A new University of Alberta study found the spread of monkeypox misinformation is mirroring the spread of COVID-19 misinformation in a “largely predictable” pattern.

“Within a day and a half of the announcement from the World Health Organization that monkeypox had spread to multiple countries, we saw the emergence of extreme conspiracy theories,” said Timothy Caulfield, the Canada research chair in health law and policy at the U of A.

The study authors – Caulfield and Marco Zenone – looked at 864 TikTok videos related to monkeypox. Of those, they identified 153 that contained a “monkeypox conspiracy theory or theme.”

“Within an average of 30 hours after posting, the videos received 1.5 million views, 75,000 likes, and 14,000 shares,” the study shared.

“These things emerge really really quickly, within a day is exactly what we found,” Caulfield told CityNews. “So we need to go to those places and counter the misinformation too.”


It wasn’t just how widely the videos were shared that reminded researchers of COVID-19 misinformation. Several conspiracy theories were practically duplicated.

In some, Bill Gates was blamed for the monkeypox outbreak, as he was for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other videos claimed monkeypox was released “for power, control or money, or to instill fear” – linking the World Economic Forum and global elites to the virus.

“I think it’s a good example of how believing one conspiracy theory often is tied to many conspiracy theories,” said Caulfield.

Some blamed COVID-19 vaccines for spreading monkeypox. Other misinformation had religious overtones.

“I watched hundreds of videos, and it’s exhausting to see the rage and the consistency of the messaging,” said Caulfield. “They always fit into this one basket. If you think vaccines don’t work, you think monkeypox is a conspiracy, that climate change isn’t real, even that Ukraine is guilty of more war crimes than Russia. You can just go down the list and tick the boxes.”

WATCH: Positive ‘early signs’ in Canada’s battle against monkeypox

Caulfield and Zenone say tracking how conspiracy theories begin – and how they are shared – can allow them to be monitored and countered with correct information.

“I think the good news is the countering of information does get views,” said Caulfield.

The U of A study was published Tuesday in the JAMA Network.

Monkeypox in Alberta

Canada has fewer than 1,500 confirmed monkeypox cases, with 41 of those in Alberta. Public health data shows a drop off in daily case counts since the summer.

Alberta Health Services told CityNews a seasonal surge of monkeypox cases in the province is not expected.

“At this time, monkeypox has mostly been spread between people who had close intimate/sexual contact with a person who has the virus,” AHS said in a statement.

The provincial health authority says about 4,100 Imvamune monkeypox vaccine doses have been administered in Alberta.

“Albertans at highest risk of exposure to monkeypox can receive two doses of vaccine, the second dose 28 days after the first, provided the eligibility criteria are met.”

—With files from Carly Robinson

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