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Double Check: Did A Swedish Businessman Buy The Amazon?

Double Check: Did A Swedish Businessman Buy The Amazon?

By Ernie Piper and Alice Franklin

This week, social media platforms were abuzz with misinformation – not just about the now perennial SARS-CoV-2  – but also about the climate change, dengue, and Swedish multimillionaire Johan Eliasch, who allegedly bought 400k acres of Amazon rainforest back in the noughties. The last claim was an exciting one for us: false and misleading assertions about very rich men (Elon Musk, Bill Gates et al) tend to proliferate on social media and come our way a lot, but partly true claims about very rich men are less common, as are claims about Eliasch specifically. In any case, please below a lovely round-up of this week’s greatest fact checking hits...


PARTLY TRUE: Swedish millionaire Johan Eliasch bought 400k acres of Amazon rainforest for $14 million as part of his own conservation efforts.

The first of claim was a meme from Facebook suggesting that a Swedish billionaire had bought up a huge portion of the Amazon rainforest for $14 million. This was true - however, the purchase price was never disclosed. Saving the planet is rarely so uncomplicated though. Eliasch bought the logging company that owned that section of the Amazon and laid off its workers, who then had to find new jobs. He also said he hired security to make sure no illegal logging happened. Eliasch’s company in the Amazon was swept up as part of a lawsuit against international capital during Lula da Silva’s government, which ultimately resulted in no action taken against him. A simple feel-good story about protecting the jungle has implications for workers’ livelihoods and foreign ownership of another country’s land. So even while the meme is mostly true, the full story shows that it’s sometimes hard to make the news meme-able and still entirely accurate. 

Read the full fact check here


FALSE: The world’s temperature has not changed in the past 15 years. 

Climate disinformation normally isn’t that brazen – our report conducted in partnership with APCO found that climate denialism has mostly shifted towards doomerism and downplaying, rather than outright claims that the problem doesn’t exist. Most straightforward disinfo is being driven top-down, by either political actors (who are not subject to fact-checks on Facebook) or by other pressure groups. We found that there’s not much evidence for grassroots climate denialism which, as extreme weather events become harder and harder to hand-wave away, makes sense. As some Twitter users have observed, climate change is a series of disasters you watch on your phone, until you’re the one recording. But grassroots denialism does sometimes crop up, such as this example claiming that the temperature hasn’t risen in the last 15 years. The mean temperature has gone up about 1 degree since 1980. 

Read the full fact check here


FALSE: The AstroWorld tragedy was a Satanic ritual. 

At Travis Scott’s music festival, the crowd surged towards the stage. In the terrifying stampede, hundreds of people suffered injuries, 17 people were taken to hospital, and 8 people lost their lives. As the cause for the panic wasn’t immediately clear, some conspiracists claimed the show was a satanic ritual. This is not true. 

In the wake of tragedies, as social media researchers Abbie Richards and Olivia Little point out, conspiracies offer a degree of comfort when there’s a lack of good information, because then at least there’s someone responsible for the bad things that happen. Even if that person is the literal Devil. 

Read the full fact check here

FALSE: Vitamin D, zinc, Ivermectin, and hydroxychloroquine can cure hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Last week, the U.K. approved the use of Merck’s new pill to treat COVID-19. The medical regulator MHRA said that they’d found the drug, called molnupiravir, to be “safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at increased risk of developing severe disease.” The misinformation ecosystem reacted with scorn, claiming mostly that the new drugs marked-up versions of the things they believed worked — ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and Vitamin D. (Some posters went so far as to hype an anti-vax rap.) When one Instagram post promoted a host of these historic quack cures for COVID-19, we pulled out the science. 

Read the full fact check here


FALSE: Goat milk is consumed to cure dengue.

Other off-brand cures for viral illnesses have emerged on social media, too: In India, goat milk has been touted as a cure for dengue. Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral illness in subtropical parts of the world which results in fevers, rash, vomiting, and sometimes death. There’s currently a massive outbreak in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, with over 23,000 cases reported, and understandably people are a bit tense. 

Dengue causes your platelet count to drop dramatically. Some hope that goat milk can help the platelet count climb back to a normal level after infection. Goat milk is high in vitamin A and full of enriching fats and proteins, but can’t really boost your platelets. And if it’s unpasteurized, it can also contain some gnarly bacteria, which can themselves cause infection. 

Read the full fact check here. 


FALSE: The word "bar" stands for "beer and alcohol room."

And finally, in lighter news, an extremely Boomer-y meme shared 75,000 times on Facebook claimed that “bar” stood for “beer and alcohol room.” Is it a joke? Genuine confusion? As usual, since we are fact checking killjoys, we dove into the etymology. 

Read the full fact check here.

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