Global Panic Falls, an Infodemic of Fake News, and Forecasting Second Lockdowns

Joaquin Monfort | August 06, 2020

In our latest COVID update, global panic falls to levels that might correspond with a more positive outlook for the coronavirus pandemic, the Fake News Index hits a 3-month high as an infodemic of misinformation and fake news spreads, and we explore the art of forecasting second lockdowns using our news analytics platform. Read more below

Today's Update: Panic falls to levels corresponding with a recovery, fake news hits a 3-month high, and the art of forecasting lockdowns.

Key Takeaways:

  • Worldwide panic falls to a significant low, a sign of a recovery?
  • Fake News at 3-month highs; the hydroxychloroquine debate
  • Trying to forecast second lockdowns using RavenPack data

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CAN A FALL IN PANIC EQUAL EASING PANDEMIC?

Although the world may not seem any calmer, the Worldwide Panic Index has fallen to key lows. The Index measures the percentage of the news about the coronavirus that mentions panic or hysteria. It is important because it has been found to have leading properties for COVID cases. It fell to 2.23 on August 4, its second-lowest reading since February.

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A lower Index reading suggests both that COVID-related fears may be ebbing and that we are on the cusp of a new less virulent phase in the pandemic.

This is reinforced by the fact that the previous low for the period occurred on June 11 when the Index fell to 2.20, which coincided with most countries lifting lockdown measures.

A recent report highlighting a fall in mortality rates in the UK, despite the impact of COVID, may be symptomatic of the reduction in panic.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed the death rate in the week of July 24, 2020, had - surprisingly - fallen by 25% compared to the same week in 2019. This was despite the coronavirus causing 217 of the deaths, or 2.4%. The mortality rate was also substantially lower than the 5-year average for that week. It has not been that low since prior to lockdown.

The data highlights the low impact the virus is having on the overall mortality rate in one of the worst-hit countries, with potentially significant implications for policymakers.

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FAKE NEWS INDEX AT 3-MONTH HIGH

Logically speaking not everyone can be a liar, yet that hasn’t stopped the Worldwide Fake News Index from reaching a 3-month high recently as more and more stories in the news discussed the subject of fake news and misinformation.

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One interesting story of fake news claim and counterclaim, from the financial news website Zerohedge, is about the COVID drug hydroxychloroquine.

The drug’s effectiveness has been heavily criticized by the mainstream media, including the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), who have even argued the drug’s advocates are peddling fake news, yet, Zerohedge’s Tyler Durden, says those same media outlets are themselves guilty of disseminating ‘fake news’ since the clinical evidence supporting the drug is highly compelling.

As evidence, Durdan contrasts the death rates from COVID-19 in countries where the drug is used minimally and only in serious hospital cases because of skepticism, such as the U.S. and the UK, and those where it has been embraced and used more widely at an earlier stage, such as India, Malaysia, Turkey, and Morocco.

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He also notes the spike in deaths observed in countries such as France and Switzerland who initially were enthusiastic early adopters of the drug but then suspended its application after growing skeptical.

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FORECASTING SECOND LOCKDOWNS

If anything says a second wave may be upon us, it is Donald Trump finally wearing a face mask in public, despite being vehemently opposed to them before.

Along with a second wave also comes the possibility of countries reimposing lockdown measures, with potentially damaging consequences for their economies.

As such, we thought it would be interesting to see what our data might have to say about the possible reimposition of lockdowns - is there a news analytics footprint, for example, that might forewarn of such events?

After analyzing the data from 14 different countries we found that increases and decreases in the daily count of headlines that mentioned how COVID was “rising” again after “weeks”, provided a possible forewarning of the reintroduction of lockdown measures.

More specifically, the two headlines that most accurately seem to provide an early warning contained the phrases “highest cases for weeks” and “the first case in weeks”.

The number of headlines tended to peak on average a couple of weeks prior to the reintroduction of lockdown measures, often in early June.

The chart below shows an example, with the number of headlines containing “Highest Cases in Weeks” in the United Kingdom.

Note the hump in headlines occurring in early June, which was later followed by the reintroduction of lockdown measures in the city of Leicester on June 29, about 2 weeks later.

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Contrast this with the example of Italy where there was barely any spike in similar headlines - and no reimposition of lockdown measures.

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Germany is another country that reimposed lockdown measures after the discovery of 1500 new coronavirus cases in a meatpacking factory in the North Rhine-Westphalia region.

Here too we see the tell-tale spike in headlines for “highest cases in weeks” in early June, once again providing forewarning of what was to come.

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Contrast this with the Netherlands where there has been no second wave and we see no early June spike in associated headlines.

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Australia is another country which experienced a second wave and second lockdown in Melbourne. Here too we see the familiar spike in headlines containing “first case in weeks” in early June, providing the warning a lockdown was on the horizon.

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In France, on the other hand, where there has been no second lockdown there was also no associated early June rise in headlines.

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For more information or to find out how you can use RavenPack news analytics to power your decision-making, request a free trial of our platform or contact one of our representatives.

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