In-depth reporting on the world of social media

In-depth reporting on the world of social media


London, United Kingdom






In-depth reporting on the world of social media




The anti-vax influencer plot that flopped

Who was behind a secret plot to pay social media stars to falsely discredit the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine? Trending investigates an attempt to weaponise the power of influencer marketing in the online disinformation war over the pandemic. In May this year a marketing agency contacted influencers in several countries with an extraordinary offer. A mystery client was offering big money if the influencers would use their YouTube and Instagram videos to spread lies about the health risks...


Vaccine heroes fight back

Nicole is a paediatrician in Ohio who was shocked when she received a ton of nasty comments on one of her online videos. Her “mistake” was providing reliable, evidence-based information about vaccines. It meant that anti-vaccine activists targeted her. But with the help of a group of volunteer medical professionals called Shots Heard Around the World, she led a fight back against abuse and disinformation. The pandemic is far from over – but there are signs that science is winning out over...


Brazil’s bubble of bad information

A helicopter carrying vaccines is greeted in a by a crowd in an indigenous village – and the villagers are armed with bows and arrows. It’s just one, thankfully rare incident. But it’s a symptom of the creeping misinformation hitting some of Brazil’s most remote communities. But rather than being a vestige of traditional ideas or village life, rumours about health and vaccines are being spread in a very modern way. Mobile phone operators in Brazil often include free data in their user plans,...


The rise of India’s ‘Covid quack’

As India struggles with a surge in Covid-19 cases, it is also dealing with a wave of misinformation about the virus and vaccines. Although now banned from Facebook and YouTube, self-proclaimed nutritionist Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury built his social media stardom by claiming that conventional medicine is almost entirely wrong about coronavirus. Labelled a dangerous “quack” by his critics, Chowdhury has a track record of spreading outrageous medical falsehoods. He is opposed to all vaccines and...


One woman’s escape from the rabbit hole

Catherine’s family believed in alternative medicine and she grew up in relatively poor, fringe communities that didn’t have much to do with mainstream science or Britain’s national health system. And when social media became a big part of her life, she started believing in all sorts of wild conspiracy theories. But when she slowly realised that she was being conned by some of the pseudoscientists and charlatans she had put her trust in, she started to turn a sceptical eye on her online...


Targeting Germany’s youth

The Querdenken (in English, “lateral thinking”) sprung up last summer – it’s Germany’s anti-vaccine, Covid-denying, anti-lockdown movement, and it’s created a new crop of social media figures. The baseless conspiracy theories they spread have got more extreme over time – and one man in particular has used parents’ worries about the impact of lockdown on their children as a vehicle for false narratives. Samuel Eckert, a former evangelical preacher, runs a private Telegram group for under-18s...


South Africa's imported 'infodemic'

Recent surveys indicate that there might be rising scepticism about vaccines in South Africa. But even before the coronavirus pandemic started, the Rainbow Nation was battling a tide of anti-vaccine misinformation online. And one study found that although there is a relatively small group of South African anti-vaccine activists, they are being bolstered by a wave of material coming from abroad. We meet a pharmacist who has been tracking the alarming reach of that small group of hardcore...


France’s misinformation fight

France is one of the most vaccine sceptical countries in the world. A recent poll suggests just 40% of French people intend to take a Covid-19 vaccine, but what's fuelling the doubt? We meet the superstar doctor whose anti-authoritarian zeal has inspired an army of devotees, and the conspiracy obsessed shaman with a huge following on social media. Plus, the activists staging a fightback. “Marie” runs a pro-vaccine Facebook group aimed at countering disinformation but wants to remain...


How anti-vax went viral

Scientists say only a vaccine will really get us out of the Covid-19 pandemic. So why has the anti-vaccine movement grown stronger than ever over the last year? In the first episode of this new series, BBC Trending and a team of disinformation reporters will investigate how hardcore anti-vaccine activists have used social media to spread their message far and wide, capitalising on fear and mistrust to advance their own agendas. We’re not talking about legitimate medical debate or questions...


Votes, viruses, victims: 2020 in disinformation

From the global pandemic to the US election, the extraordinary events of 2020 have both fuelled, and been shaped by, the online spread of falsehoods, propaganda and bizarre conspiracy theories. Trending’s Mike Wendling and Marianna Spring, the BBC’s specialist disinformation reporter, look back at some of the most viral rumours, how they debunked them, and discover what happened next. Producers: Jonathan Griffin and Sam Judah Picture caption: Photo illustration of a phone showing “fake news”...


The truth behind a ‘woke’ Instagram network

It sounds like a dream proposition. A company with a big online following messages you out of the blue, asking you to represent them as a “brand ambassador”. They promise you a boost in Instagram followers, and a discount on their products. And they even promise to donate large sums to charity. But take away the rosy filter, and the reality does not look quite so good. New followers aren’t guaranteed. And the products for sale are so vastly overpriced that even with the discount, you’re...


The roots of Donald Trump’s ‘voter fraud’ strategy

A Facebook group named Stop the Steal sprung up in the hours after the US presidential election. Within hours it had gained hundreds of thousands of followers. Members alleged the election had been “rigged”, despite a lack of evidence. But this claim came from the very top. Months before, President Trump was planting seeds of doubt over the vote – mentioning “voter fraud” and similar phrases more than 70 times on Twitter. BBC Trending looks into some of the most viral specific allegations –...


Doxxed and hacked In Hong Kong

The fight over democracy in Hong Kong continues. In the week that pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse in protest at the sacking of four of their colleagues, we take a look at the secretive struggles happening online. Trade union leader Carol Ng was shocked to find her phone number and photo on a mysterious website – HK Leaks – which lists names and personal details of some 1,800 activists. Who is behind the site? It appears to be hosted in Russia, but many believe it’s a smear campaign...


How to be a social media star… without the internet

Wasil is well known for his funny, flirtatious satirical videos. But he also lives in Indian-administered Kashmir, which is arguably one of the least-connected places on earth. The internet is often cut off or slowed down to a trickle. It’s one of a number of measures the Indian government has taken to restrict information in the province. The government says the measures are necessary to clamp down on militants – but rights organisations call them a serious breach of civil liberties. For...


Sex, monks and video fakes

Luon Sovath is a softly spoken Buddhist monk who has long been a thorn in the side of the Cambodian government. And now, he’s been targeted by a state-sponsored disinformation campaign. Earlier this year, a series of mysterious videos appeared on Facebook, accusing him of having affairs with four women from the same family. Soon after he was defrocked and charged with raping another woman, one who didn’t feature in the videos. Luon Sovath denies all the allegations, and fled the country to...


Help! My mum is a conspiracy influencer

What would you do if your mum became a conspiracy theory influencer? Kate Shemirani is one of Twitter’s most popular anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-5G activists. She calls coronavirus a “plandemic” and a “scandemic”, makes the false claim that 5G radio waves cause the symptoms of the disease and even says, contrary to all the evidence, that the virus that causes Covid-19 doesn’t exist. She’s built up a huge following on social media, speaks to rallies in London and encourages people to ignore...


Disinfo wars and the all-American ‘troll farm’

The 2016 US election was beset by so-called “fake news” – but what’s happening this time around? Four years ago, fictitious and scandalous news articles emanating from Russian backed troll farms went viral. Some even claim it may have changed the course of the election. Now a new disinformation battle is raging, but this time the game has changed. Instead of creating content overseas, a number of campaigns have been discovered enlisting American citizens in creating content designed to...


QAnon and the rabbit hole election

Millions of Americans are tuning into an alternative US election campaign. This one isn’t full of sobering news about the pandemic, the Supreme Court and the American economy – instead it’s filled with chatter about elite cabals, rumours and allegations of the most vile crimes. The rabbit hole election is a subterranean campaign taking place online. And there's one conspiracy theory in particular that is spreading widely and is becoming increasingly well-known among voters: QAnon. At its...


Did a state news agency troll its critics?

The people in charge wanted state-run news agency Notimex to become the “BBC of Mexico”. And after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected in 2018, he appointed people who took on that mission. But now the agency has been rocked by allegations that it targeted online abuse at former employees and critical independent journalists. An investigation by three organisations alleges that people among the most senior Notimex executives orchestrated the use of fake accounts to attack...


Why do some influencers back bad products?

If you're on Instagram, you'll have seen influencers promoting all sorts of products - from gadgets to clothes or food. But can you really trust their recommendations? A BBC investigation found a number of top influencers pushing products that are fake and poor quality. There’s no evidence to suggest these social media stars knew they were openly promoting questionable brands and companies. And yet, many customers say the only reason why they bought these products was because influencers...