The Simpsons Didn't Predict COVID (and Other Myths Dispelled)

Marcia Frellick

March 17, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Fact: There's very little to laugh about with COVID-19.

But some of the claims presented as fact on social media have fact-checkers doing spit-takes.

The fact-checkers at the Poynter Institute's PolitiFact have shared some of the most bizarre statements of the more than 800 pandemic claims they have investigated in the last year.

More than 60% of the claims earned either a "false" or "pants on fire" rating.

They also note that what may seem like harmless tin foil hat-type absurdities may have the potential for serious consequences.

Below are some of the 15 things PolitiFact wants to clear up.

Nanoparticles in COVID-19 vaccines can't locate you in 5G networks.

The claim that vaccinated people are being tracked earned a "pants on fire" rating.

While there are lipid nanoparticles in the vaccines, they have nothing to do with microchip technology or 5G networks.

Fish tank cleaner does not kill the coronavirus.

Fish tank cleaners that contain chloroquine cannot be substituted for the prescription drug chloroquine. And those cleaners could be deadly if swallowed, the writers note.

The claim originated from the disinformation surrounding chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 early in the pandemic, the fact-checkers write.

Cocaine does not kill the coronavirus.

Claims were reported on Facebook and Twitter, including one lacking grammar as well as truth: "Cocaine kills corona virus, scientists is shocked to discover that this drug can fight the virus."

The fact-checkers note there isn't a cure for COVID-19 and if there were, it wouldn't be cocaine, a highly addictive drug that can increase the risk for long-term respiratory problems and movement disorders.

"The breaking news format of this social media claim came from a website that allows you to create your own breaking news stories by uploading your own image and headline into a generator," the checkers write.

Rating: Pants on fire!

Marijuana doesn't kill it either, the fact-checkers note, though that claim was also in the list of the wackiest circulating misinformation.

Doctors administering the vaccines are not guilty of war crimes.

This claim came from an 18-minute video by a British author who also denies the existence of HIV/AIDS. He called the vaccine "experimental" and "gene therapy," and said, therefore, that physicians administering it "will be tried as war criminals."

The claim was among those flagged by Facebook in its effort to combat misinformation on the virus.

Amazon's Alexa doesn't say the government planned the pandemic.

A Facebook video that racked up thousands of shares made the claim.

The fact-checkers write: "There was a project called Event 201 that simulated possible outcomes of a coronavirus pandemic, but it was a planning exercise and did not predict this specific COVID-19 pandemic."

Also, asking Alexa did not elicit the answer.

The Simpsons did not predict COVID-19.

Fox's long-running, animated, hit TV show has predicted the future several times, the fact-checkers say, including the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. But not this virus. The writers explain that "an image from the show that originally said 'apocalypse meow' was altered to read 'corona virus.' "

Pope Francis did not say the COVID-19 vaccine was required to get into heaven.

But Facebook posts flagged on the platform in December said he did. The information originated from the satire site "Babylon Bee."

He did say to an Italian TV station in January that getting the vaccine is "an ethical choice, because you are playing with health, life, but you are also playing with the lives of others. I've signed up. One must do it," according to The New York Times.

PolitiFact has been owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies since 2018.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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