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The Role of the Media in the context of an Epidemic


Muvman Liberasyon Fam (MLF) has this week in an Open Letter sent to all editorialists, journalists and reporters in Mauritius called on them “to stimulate debate on what the media's role should be in the context of an epidemic for the common good. And in particular, to “do no harm”, a basic principle.” In this Open Letter, the MLF states: 

“This follows articles in the media containing falsehoods about the COVID 19 vaccine. Such falsehoods are being deliberately disseminated through social media by extreme right activists around the world and the US in particular to downplay the gravity of COVID 19, discourage mask-wearing and COVID 19 vaccination. This kind of campaign has become so rampant that social media platforms like Facebook are having to intervene to stop the “physical harm” that such a campaign does in the context of a pandemic.

“This is a new phenomenon in Mauritius: we have a strong culture of people co-operating to understand and act together successfully – the last example of this being the collective campaign against malaria, which was by this collective effort eradicated. We also have a relatively developed public health sector, part of the public health-care system that has in the present context become a vital part of curbing the epidemic. Vaccines for public health for babies, children, senior citizens are a normal part of life in our culture.”

The Muvman Liberasyon Fam (MLF) continues in their Open Letter:

“We realise that the media is having to come to grips with a situation where some people are relying on social media for their individual “recherche” on COVID 19 in a time when there are co-ordinated campaigns intersecting various social networks to discourage taking COVID 19 seriously, mask-wearing and COVID 19 vaccination. These campaigns do not rely on scientific fact or are selective about “scientific studies” if ever they quote any. They generally prey on fear, on sensationalism, on phobias that some people have for their own health. They also atomise society into individuals, each looking out for their own health, rather than help people develop a common response to a virus that affects all us and people in our respective physical social networks.

The media has a vital role to play in this context. And we realise it is not an easy role. The media in other parts of the world have had to grapple with what the role of the media should be in the context of a pandemic when there is active campaigning by those opposing COVID 19 vaccines that undermines a collective approach to public health.”

The MLF then draws attention to two different ways the media, including social media is having to counter the effects of falsehoods spread about COVID 19, mask-wearing and COVID 19 vaccines:

“With the rise of social media, Reuters, AFP, AP amongst others have had to set up/reinforce fact-check departments to check claims and visual material posted by people or organisations on social media. Such fact-checking is public and easily accessed through the internet.

“Social media, a relatively new phenomenon, has had to review its role in the context of a pandemic too. Facebook for instance, has had to remove 12 million items of misinformation about COVID 19 globally and put warning labels on over 167 million posts marked as false by third-party fact-checkers.”

Quotes from media fact-checks

In our fack-checking exercise, we have noted that extreme right currents in the US propagate a fear-based campaign against vaccines in general. Propagating such a campaign could potentially undermine established and accepted vaccination for babies, children and anti-vaccines for Seniors and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory health problems.

We have used a convention of pasting the relevant website URL before quoting from the website. Quotes are in italics. Our explanatory notes or notes are in square brackets.

Distorting the facts: use of Aluminium in COVID 19 vaccines

We quote from this fact-check:

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports small amounts of aluminum, specifically aluminum salts, have been used in vaccines since the 1930s. The aluminum acts as an adjuvant, which helps elicit a stronger immune response from the body.

Adults on average ingest 7 to 9 milligrams of aluminum per day, and the amount found in a vaccine is equivalent to that found in a liter of baby formula, according to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.” 

[Explanatory note from )Politifact was founded in 2007 by the Tampa Bay Times, utilizes reporters and editors from the Times and affiliated media outlets to “fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists, and interest groups.]

Distorting the facts: use of Formaldehyde, mercury and aluminium in vaccines

We quote from the fact-check:

Social media users have been sharing posts online that claim COVID-19 vaccines contain human aborted fetus cells, triton X-100, thimerosal, and aluminum. This claim is false.”


Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury. It is used in multi-dose vials of some influenza vaccines to prevent the growth of bacteria, as explained by the CDC.”

We quote from the above website:

Why is formaldehyde in some vaccines?

Formaldehyde has a long history of safe use in the manufacture of certain viral and bacterial vaccines. It is used to inactivate viruses so that they don’t cause disease (e.g., polio virus used to make polio vaccine) and to detoxify bacterial toxins, such as the toxin used to make diphtheria vaccine. Formaldehyde is diluted during the vaccine manufacturing process, but residual quantities of formaldehyde may be found in some current vaccines. The amount of formaldehyde present in some vaccines is so small compared to the concentration that occurs naturally in the body that it does not pose a safety concern.

Formaldehyde is also produced naturally in the human body as a part of normal functions of the body to produce energy and build the basic materials needed for important life processes. This includes making amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins that the body needs.”

False claim that Covid 19 vaccines contains “foetus avorté”

We quote from the source given in the above reuters fact-check:

No, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells. 

However, Pfizer and Moderna did perform confirmation tests (to ensure the vaccines work) using fetal cell lines. And Johnson & Johnson uses fetal cell lines in vaccine development, confirmation and production.

But it's important to have the full context: Fetal cell lines are not the same as fetal tissue.

Fetal cell lines are cells that grow in a laboratory. They descend from cells taken from elective abortions in the 1970s and 1980s. Those individual cells from the 1970s and 1980s have since multiplied into many new cells over the past four or five decades, creating fetal cell lines. Current fetal cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue. They do not contain any tissue from a fetus.”

False claim that Covid 19 vaccines causes cancer:

We quote from the Association Press fact-check:

CLAIM: A study by scientists at Sloan Kettering discovered Messenger RNA inactivates tumor suppressing proteins, meaning that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines can cause cancer.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The 2018 study has no relevance to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center confirmed the claim is false and misrepresents the findings of the study.

THE FACTS: An article in Natural News, which is known for circulating false information about vaccines, is spreading the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines could cause cancer.”

Distorting the facts: “Nanotechnology” used in COVID 19 vaccines:

We quote from the above Reuters fact-check:

" Social media users have claimed the presence of lipid nanoparticles in a COVID-19 vaccine means it could contain small robots or computers. This is false - these nanoparticles are tiny lipid droplets that transport and protect the vaccine component."

We quote two relevant subtitles from the above AFP fact-check:

"Les nanoparticules présent dans les vaccins vont permettre de vous localiser” grâce à "la 5G". Faux" (...)

"Le vaccin ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 "qu'ils souhaitent injecter dans votre corps" contient "les nanoparticules décrites dans le brevet Microsoft". Faux"

False claim that Covid 19 vaccines are a danger for auto-immunity system:

We quote from the above Associated Press fact-check:

CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines that rely on messenger RNA technology will teach the body to attack itself, leading to autoimmune disease.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There is no evidence that the so-called messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna cause autoimmune disease. 

THE FACTS: In a 12-minute video circulating on social media, a nurse practitioner warns people against getting the COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA technology, falsely claiming that it will teach the body to attack itself and lead to autoimmune disease.”

 Quotes from updated Facebook Community Standards:

COVID-19: Community Standards updates and protections

As people around the world confront this unprecedented public health emergency, we want to make sure that our Community Standards protect people from harmful content and new types of abuse related to COVID-19. We're working to remove content that has the potential to contribute to real-world harm, including through our policies prohibiting the coordination of harm, the sale of medical masks and related goods, hate speech, bullying and harassment, and misinformation that contributes to the risk of imminent violence or physical harm.

As the situation evolves, we are continuing to look at content on the platform, assess speech trends and engage with experts, and will provide additional policy guidance when appropriate to keep the members of our community safe during this crisis.”


3. Coordinating harm and publicising crime

Do not post


- Content coordinating interference with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine

- Content calling to action, advocating or promoting that others not get the COVID-19 vaccine