ER doctor’s original tweet on delta variant is legitimate
CLAIM: A tweet claiming “I just left the ER” and “we are officially back to getting crushed by COVID-19,” which has been copied and pasted by many Twitter users, is part of a fake bot campaign and doesn’t represent anyone’s real experience.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The original tweet with this message comes from a licensed emergency medicine doctor and is genuine.
THE FACTS: An image circulating on Twitter and Facebook claims to reveal a sinister network of bots who copied and pasted the same fake message at the same time in an attempt at COVID-19 fearmongering.
In reality, it shows an authentic warning from an emergency room doctor that was transformed into a meme over the course of a week after Twitter users copied and pasted his words to discredit his message and breed confusion.
It all started on July 22, when Dr. Sam Ghali, a licensed emergency medicine physician in Jacksonville, Florida, posted a tweet about how the delta variant of the coronavirus was affecting his hospital.
“I just left the ER,” Ghali wrote. “We are officially back to getting crushed by COVID-19. Delta Variant is running rampant and it’s MUCH more transmissible than the original virus. 99% of our ICU admits did NOT receive a vaccine. Virtually ALL of them wish they had.”
In the days following his post, a handful of Twitter users copied and pasted Ghali’s words. A closer look at their accounts reveals a majority were humans, not bots, several of whom have spread misinformation about COVID-19 in the past and had posted the message as a means of trolling the doctor. Some of the accounts that copied the message later admitted as much, one writing on Twitter that she “did this as a trolling joke to discredit the initial poster.”
Some of the Twitter users swapped different words in for “delta” in an attempt to invalidate the seriousness of the current surge in cases fueled by the delta variant.
As the duplicated tweets proliferated online, a grid of screenshots of the identical tweets with their timestamps and engagement numbers cut off began spreading as a single image. The meme masked the fact that the original tweet had far more engagement than any of the subsequent copycat posts. The collage of identical tweets promoted a false narrative that the tweets were from a bot campaign with no genuine origins.
“These went out at same time with exact same message telling everyone that they just left the ER where the delta variant was rampant,” a Twitter user sharing the image wrote. “Only problem it’s not true! Bots!”
“Astroturf campaign of lies launched on Facebook/Twitter to scare you into getting the Covid vax just got BUSTED,” a Facebook user wrote.
Ghali, who works and teaches at the University of Florida, confirmed to The Associated Press that his original tweet was genuine.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with Facebook and other platforms to add context to misleading content and reduce its circulation online.