The outbreak of disinformation accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic spares no one, not even children.
Disinformation players out for social media shares have duped scores of online users into believing false COVID-19 tearjerker stories featuring unrelated photos of sick children.
Posts exceeding a million have separately shared a photo of a 6-year-old Filipino boy and another photo of a 7-year-old New Zealand boy, stripping them of context and claiming both tested positive for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
(Factrakers is sharing screenshots of the misleading online posts with the faces of the two boys blurred.)
Yet, the Filipino boy died in early May after years of battling leukemia; his father said the boy was tested for COVID-19, with an unknown result to date.
The photo of the New Zealand boy appeared in online posts as early as 2014, six full years before the pandemic.
In both instances, the motivation of disinformation actors was clearly to harvest shares—a fact they do not conceal—and drive traffic to their accounts.
Aside from prayers, they openly ask for shares for their post. Their appeal sounds genuine because they state they’re not after any money.
Children make “good copy” because of their huge emotional appeal. In news parlance, they provide “human interest.”
The post on Liam Shady Padilla, the 6-year-old Filipino, was published May 13, six days after he passed away at a Taguig hospital.
Please don’t ignore. I just tested positive for coronavirus. Can any one help pray for me and also share to Facebook groups so I can get more prayers? Please don’t ignore me without a share. Thank you.
Padilla was as a “person under investigation” for COVID-19 at the time. His father, Julius Cesar or “JC,” said he posted the photo to highlight government’s failure to adequately assist those with pre-existing conditions like his son who are at greater risk of contracting the virus.
Padilla died the following day, the results of his test unknown.
The results were still unknown on May 15 when his irate father denounced the fake news which he said put his son and his family under a stigma.
The post is still up even as family and friends say they have reported the abuse to Facebook. It has collected 597 comments and 6,600 shares.
Even more misleading are posts that claim a baby who survived open-heart surgery is COVID-19 positive. The text accompanying the photo:
This is baby Kyle. Few weeks ago He survived an opened heart surgery, And today the doctors confirm That he has Corona Virus, He is not asking for your money, He only want you to help him out, by sharing this post to even if it's 5 different Facebook groups so He can get many prayers as possible, please don't ignore him.
The baby is not Kyle, as the posts claim. He is Cameron Bartle, now 7, of New Zealand, who was born with hypoplastic right heart syndrome, a rare congenital heart defect in which the right side of the heart is severely undeveloped.
The photo was taken when Bartle was 7 days old, two days after he underwent the first of what would be four open-heart surgeries.
The earliest online version of the photo appears in his mother’s 2014 post about his poignant story.
Among the first to misuse Bartle’s photo was the Facebook page “Invite 100 friends and get 2k likes on your profile pic and posts” on its May 15 post.
Interactions generated by this and similar posts have exceeded a million, one-fourth of them from at least 180 Facebook pages and groups in the Philippines , according to data from the social media monitoring tool Crowdtangle.
The Philippine groups have 21 million followers in all. They include prayer, entertainment, political and hyperlocal groups and those that swap jokes and “hugot” lines, a Filipino slang for cathartic.
The World Health Organization, citing limited data, said COVID-positive children experienced milder illness compared with adults. It also said relatively few cases of COVID-positive infants have been reported.
WHO said robust evidence associating underlying conditions with severe illness in infected children is still lacking, but added that some had chronic lung disease, including asthma, cardiovascular disease and immunosuppression.
Bartle, R. (2014, January 14). Little battlers: Heart surgery at 5 days old. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/little-battlers-kids-beating-the-odds/9592230/Little-battlers-Heart-surgery-at-5-days-old
Fight Leukemia with Liam Shady. (2020, May 6). Please read and share...To those who have good hearts, God will return to you..Thank you very much to those who helped.. And to those who will help.. Whether it's small or big, it's a big thing and the most of all we need is your prayers.. Thank you very much.. [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/liamshadypleasestandup/posts/874820566349903
Padilla, J.C. (2020, May 15). Dinelete ko yung facebook sa phone ko dahil ayoko muna maka kita ng masasakit na ngyare nitong nakaraang linggo… [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/jc.padilla.370/posts/10218938323422858
Padilla, J.C. (2020, May 6). Alam ko nakaka awa ang anak ko sa picture na to.. P.u.i sya ngaun naka admit sa medical center Taguig Pero kaya ko to popost dahil gusto ko lang makarating sa gobyerno na ganito ang ngyare sa mga taong hnde nyo naisip pag handaan… [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10218841156553747&set=a.3804605227434&type=3&theater
Padilla, J.C. (2020, May 7). Last glance... Until the end you are with Mimi Mayel Marcial Liam goodbye to you we love you so much. The fight is over, thanks to all of you who supported until the end.. He fought…[Facebook status update]. Retrieved https://www.facebook.com/jc.padilla.370/posts/10218858875436708
World Health Organization. (2020, May 15). Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and adolescents temporally related to COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/multisystem-inflammatory-syndrome-in-children-and-adolescents-with-covid-19