In the summer of 2021, social media users enthusiastically shared screenshots of an earlier, entirely inaccurate article that claimed President Joe Biden had announced his intention to place U.S. residents in “camps” if they failed to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The headline, which was partially cut off in many cases, read: “[President Joe Biden] Announces Americans Not Vaccinated Before 2022 Will Be Put in Camps,” and the first paragraph, visible in the screenshots, read:
President Joe Biden announced his latest effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, he will be putting Americans who have chosen to not be vaccinated, into “quarantine camps” where they will be detained indefinitely until they get their shots.
Many of those screenshots were taken from various widely shared Instagram and TikTok posts that themselves promoted the entirely false claim. The screenshot below shows just a selection of posts from Facebook in the summer of 2021 alone, demonstrating its popularity on that platform:
In reality, Biden had made no such announcement, and the claim at the center of all those social media posts was entirely fabricated. In fact, the article in question was labelled “satire” by its original authors, and as such, we are issuing a rating of “Originated as Satire.”
A significant irony exists in the fact that those chiefly responsible for spreading the false and inflammatory story belong to a movement — COVID-19, anti-vaccine and “New World Order” conspiracy theorists — which so vocally emphasizes the importance of “doing your own research.” In this case, just a few seconds of research would have revealed the true origins of the bogus “Covid camps” story, since the screenshots all included the name of the website that published the article — ValueWalk.com:
On that site, those intrepid researchers would have found the article, originally posted on June 21, 2021:
If they read to the end, they would also have found the following: “Disclaimer: This is a satirical article.”
The “Covid camps” episode illustrates vividly the ease with which purportedly satirical content can be stripped of labels identifying it as such and deployed as inflammatory, and even harmful misinformation, that readers, without the immediate benefit of those original disclaimers, take very seriously indeed.