Impact Of Trump's Promotion Of Unproven COVID-19 Treatments And Subsequent Internet Trends: Observational Study

A fascinating paper by Kacper Niburski1 and Oskar Niburski explores the connection between President Trump's promotion of COVID-19 treatments and resulting media coverage, internet searches and purchasing trends:

Background: Individuals with large followings can influence public opinions and behaviors, especially during a pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, US president Donald J Trump has endorsed the use of unproven therapies. Subsequently, a death attributed to the wrongful ingestion of a chloroquine-containing compound occurred.

Objective: We investigated Donald J Trump’s speeches and Twitter posts, as well as Google searches and Amazon purchases, and television airtime for mentions of hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, azithromycin, and remdesivir.

Methods: Twitter sourcing was catalogued with, and analytics data, both past and present, were analyzed with Tweet Binder to assess average analytics data on key metrics. Donald J Trump’s time spent discussing unverified treatments on the United States’ 5 largest TV stations was catalogued with the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone, and his speech transcripts were obtained from White House briefings. Google searches and shopping trends were analyzed with Google Trends. Amazon purchases were assessed using Helium 10 software.

Results: From March 1 to April 30, 2020, Donald J Trump made 11 tweets about unproven therapies and mentioned these therapies 65 times in White House briefings, especially touting hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. These tweets had an impression reach of 300% above Donald J Trump’s average. Following these tweets, at least 2% of airtime on conservative networks for treatment modalities like azithromycin and continuous mentions of such treatments were observed on stations like Fox News. Google searches and purchases increased following his first press conference on March 19, 2020, and increased again following his tweets on March 21, 2020. The same is true for medications on Amazon, with purchases for medicine substitutes, such as hydroxychloroquine, increasing by 200%.

Conclusions: Individuals in positions of power can sway public purchasing, resulting in undesired effects when the individuals’ claims are unverified. Public health officials must work to dissuade the use of unproven treatments for COVID-19.

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