The discovery of the new COVID-19 variant, dubbed omicron, gave a new boost to online conspiracy theories and disinformation. False claims that “omicron is a hoax” quickly spread across social media.
Omicron is a new mutation of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and was first identified in November by scientists in South Africa. It has infected people in more than 20 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Omicron is not a hoax: The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa made the variant’s genetic data public, and it has been downloaded, examined and authenticated by reliable scientific laboratories and institutions worldwide.
Still, the gusher of falsehoods persists from the vaccine hesitant, skeptics and outright deniers.
The Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) tool onemilliontweetmap.com registered up to 1,300 posts per second on Twitter with the words “omicron hoax.” The United States, Britain, South Africa, Canada and Brazil were the top countries for these posts.
Here are some of the typical Twitter, Facebook and TikTok posts: “It’s a hoax mutation caused by the booster vaccine”; “It’s a hoax to scare people into giving away their freedoms”; “It’s a U.S. Democratic Party/the U.K. Conservative Party/the Global Elite [the purported source varies] hoax to manipulate the elections/increase restrictions/impoverish the poor”, etc.
By scientific convention, virus mutations are named sequentially using the letters of the Greek alphabet. Among the conspiracy-minded, even the name “omicron” became a sinister meme, with its anagram “moronic” trending as supposed “proof” of a global hoax.
Ted Cruz, the conservative Republican U.S. senator from Texas, falsely claimed on Twitter that the WHO skipped the letter “Xi” because it “is scared of the Chinese Communist Party.” Xi, a common last name in China, is the last name of the nation’s current leader, Xi Jinping.
The WHO did skip two letters of the Greek alphabet to choose “omicron” as the new mutation’s name. In a fact check, The Associated Press described the WHO’s reasoning for that decision:
“In a statement provided to the AP, the WHO said it skipped nu for clarity and xi to avoid causing offense generally.
' ‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,' the WHO said, adding that the agency’s 'best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”
Other false or misleading claims about the omicron mutation include that it is caused by the COVID-19 vaccines or booster shots, that it is being spread by fully vaccinated people, and that it proves vaccines don’t work.
Polygraph.info has already debunked false claims about omicron and vaccines.
False assertions that vaccines cause mutations are not new. They have been debunked by fact-checkers, scientists, and public health authorities over the course of the pandemic.
Nebraska Medicine, the state’s largest hospital, noted in October that all mutations discovered prior to omicron “emerged well before the COVID-19 vaccines were publicly available.”
“Virus mutations arise when the virus is replicating in a cell. None of the available vaccines contain live virus, so they cannot directly be the source of a viral variant,” Reuters reported.
“There is no evidence of any known vaccine causing new or more dangerous variants of COVID-19. Vaccination is very much part of the solution for reducing COVID-19 transmission,” the Health Desk, a scientific medical publication, explained in April.