She’s been accused of starting the pandemic …

Screenshot: CNN Business

… her life has been turned upside down. | 

A military family’s living nightmare reveals dangers of online hoaxes and conspiracy theories |

Apr 27, 2020 |

CNN Business – Maatje Benassi, a US Army reservist and mother of two, has become the target of conspiracy theorists who falsely place her at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, saying she brought the disease to China.

The false claims are spreading across YouTube every day, so far racking up hundreds of thousands of apparent views, and have been embraced by Chinese Communist Party media.

Despite never having tested positive for the coronavirus or experienced symptoms, Benassi and her husband are now subjects of discussion on Chinese social media about the outbreak, including among accounts that are known drivers of large-scale coordinated activities by their followers.

The claims have turned their lives upside down.

The couple say their home address has been posted online and that, before they shut down their accounts, their social media inboxes were overrun with messages from believers of the conspiracy.

“It’s like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare day after day,” Maatje Benassi told CNN Business in an exclusive interview, the first time she has spoken publicly since being smeared online.

As the coronavirus has spread around the world, so has misinformation about the disease. Technology giants have touted the steps they are taking to combat coronavirus misinformation, but these efforts have failed to help the Benassis.

The family’s suffering highlights the potential for blatant falsehoods to be rewarded and amplified by social media platforms.

It also serves as a powerful reminder that misinformation online, however wild or obviously untrue it may seem, can have real and lasting consequences offline.

YouTube confirmed to CNN that it was not currently running ads on Webb’s channel, but it declined to say whether ads appeared there in the past or provide details on how much money his channel may have made.

A company spokesperson said YouTube was committed to promoting accurate information about the coronavirus … Read more. 

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