Madonna Spreads Coronavirus Misinformation on Instagram

Madonna recently shared a video of quack doctor Stella Immanuel (of “demon sex” infamy) pushing hydroxychloroquine in a speech outside the U.S. Supreme Court to a group of doctors linked to far-right political groups.

She also promoted a conspiracy theory about vaccines in the caption to the video. Instagram tagged it as false information and it was later deleted. This is not the first time that Madonna has spread incorrect information about the new coronavirus and it shows that celebrities wield a massive social influence that can be used for good or for ill.

Too many celebrities are pushing pseudoscience and quackery about all sorts of things, from homeopathy for measles and anti-vaccine crankery to ADHD denialism and anti-GMO nonsense about papaya. In fact, this is an even larger problem right now since the President of the United States is none other than a celebrity spreading a massive amount of misinformation about science and medicine.

A lot of celebrities simply do not seem to be aware that they have the power to spread dangerous misinformation to millions of followers that may end up costing them a lot of money, their health or even their lives. Celebrities have a huge intellectual responsibility, but many of them do not seem to understand this and instead use their platform in problematic ways.

Some celebrities do understand these issues and use their platforms and public image to spread correct information about science and medicine, but they are few and far between.

Madonna has spread false claims about new coronavirus before

On March 22, Madonna posted a video of herself in a bathtub with petals in the water. In it, she wrongly claimed:

That’s the thing about COVID-19. It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell. It’s the great equalizer. And what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it. What’s terrible about it is that it’s made us all equal in many ways, and what’s wonderful about is, is that it’s made us all equal in many ways. Like I used to say at the end of Human Nature every night, we’re all in the same boat, and if the ship goes down we’re all going down together.

While there is some grain of truth to this statement, it does not reveal the entire scientific situation. It is true that the virus does not care about the individual characteristics that we as a society put on people (including wealth, social status, political ideology and many other factors). It is also true that some people are going to be at higher risk of becoming exposed to the virus. Crowded housing makes spread within the household more likely. People who work in front-facing service jobs, in public transport or driving are more likely to become infected. Those who work in the health care system obviously also has a higher risk.

However, it does not end here as these professions correlate to social and economic situations as well. People who are rich may be more common in jobs that can be done remotely, whereas essential jobs where you have to be at the workplace may be more common among those that are poorer. Those that are poorer can also not handle extended periods of unemployment as well as richer people and so may take essential jobs because they have to in order to keep their family from being homeless. This also ties into ethnic background as they are more likely to suffer from discrimination and poverty.

In the end, it is not fully correct to view the new coronavirus pandemic as the “great equalizer”. Perhaps this was more likely to be the case in the past, but it is no longer the case. The pandemic can and has reinforced inequalities in society and its impact will be present for many years to come. With hindsight, it is also clear that different countries have handled the new coronavirus pandemic differently. Some have had great successes, while others have not.

Madonna has since deleted the vide both from Instagram and Twitter.

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Madonna spread conspiracy video about coronavirus and vaccines

The video was of Dr. Stella Immanuel advocating hydroxychloroquine (known to be an ineffective treatment for coronavirus) outside the U.S. Supreme Court together with America’s Frontline Doctors. Immanuel is know for claiming that having sex with demons and witches causes diseases like endometriosis and that demons have sex with their victims in a dream world to multiple themselves through the stealing of sperm.

She is a religious fundamentalist and thinks that scientists are currently in the process of creating a vaccine to eliminate religious people. That is of course not how vaccines work, but fanatics are not known for their scientific coherence. The group America’s Frontline Doctors appear to reject the mainstream scientific consensus on the new coronavirus pandemic and are apparently associated with various far-right groups in the United States.

Madonna had written the caption (spelling and grammar errors in original):

The Truth will set us all Free!

But some people do not want to hear the truth. Especially the people in power who stand to make money from this long drawn out search for a vaccine Which has been proven and has been available for months. They would rather let fear control them and let the rich get richer and the poor and sick get sicker.

This woman is my hero. Thank you Stella Immanuel

First of all, Madonna appears to have a net worth reaching several hundred million dollars. If she cared so much about the poor and sick, she should spent more of that money towards projects that counteract poverty and promote health. Anytime celebrities do lip service to important goals without really putting their money where their mouth is, it is easy to conclude that it is only done for show.

Second, had a vaccine really been available for months, greedy corporations would be selling it right now to make money. This is because we are in a time when the fear of the new coronavirus pandemic is still very high and there are still billions of people who have not yet been infected.

If these corporations were to wait, more people would already become infected and immune and thus not need a vaccine. Vaccines do not bring in that much money compared with other medications, as it is a product that is only given once or perhaps a small number of times per person, while many other medications need to be taken every day.

Third, it is also worth taking into account that there are currently over 100 vaccine candidates in the pipeline competing against each other. According to the Guardian Vaccine Tracker, there are currently 142 vaccine candidates at the pre-clinical stage, 17 vaccine candidates are in Phase I testing, 13 vaccines in Phase II testing and 5 vaccines in Phase III testing. Currently, 0 vaccines that are approved by regulators.

Fourth, it can be argued that it is those who push hydroxychloroquine despite robust evidence showing it to be ineffective against the new coronavirus who have been overcome by fear.

Celebrity Annie Lennox did correct Madonna in the comments:

“This is utter madness!!! I can’t believe that you are endorsing this dangerous quackery. Hopefully your site has been hacked and you’re just about to explain it.

Instagram reacted to the misinformation about the new coronavirus spread by Madonna and flagged it as false information, added a blur to obscure it and attached multiple fact-checking articles about it. Later on, the post was deleted.

Conclusion

The biggest take-home message here is: do not trust celebrities when it comes to science and medicine. They are almost never experts on the subject and can be easily mislead.

Celebrities with millions of followers have a massive intellectual responsibility not to spread pseudoscientific quackery or other forms of misinformation. If they do spread it, it can impact literally millions of people. Increasingly, spreading pseudoscience also brings negative media attention and hurts their brands.

Celebrities who care about social justice issues should spread accurate scientific and medical information.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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