The WHO: Masters of misinformation

Move over Pinocchio, you’re an amateur compared with the WHO

Harm reduction advocates who use social media have alerted Copwatch to quite a phenomenon occurring with posts submitted by WHO accounts on X (formerly Twitter) in 2024. Instead of getting away with sharing all manner of misinformation without consequence, as has been the case in the recent past, the Community Notes system has been challenging many of the organisation’s claims. 

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In January, the WHO Western Pacific region was called out twice in a day. First, with a post claiming that to say vaping is less harmful than smoking is a “myth”. The clearly misleading tweet soon appeared with a correction underneath highlighting to all users that the WHO was spreading a falsehood. Later, the same account was also caught trying to insinuate that e-cigarettes are unusual in being liable to explode if the batteries are not treated correctly. The correction pointed out that there are far more instances of cell phone batteries suffering the same fate. 

Next up was the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Office (EMRO) which also tried to suggest that “vape and heated tobacco” are “not safer alternatives to cigarettes”, a clear lie. Soon, a corrective note appeared citing over 100 scientific items of research – many from highly-respected governmental organisations – saying the opposite. 

Not wishing to be left out, the WHO Mothership account joined the misinformation party by dishonestly claiming that vaping causes seizures in users “within 24 hours.” This, too, was shot down with a note citing sources to show that the WHO was being disingenuous or is simply incapable of correctly reading scientific articles. 

EMRO once again tried their hand at being economical with facts on April 12th, with two posts which quickly received the same treatment. One warning people they would suffer cardiovascular effects, risk being blown up, lose their unborn baby, poison their children, and harm bystanders when they vape drew a response debunking every one of the false claims. On the same day, another claiming that “all tobacco and nicotine products are extremely damaging for health” was challenged with a note pointing out that there is a continuum of risk with nicotine products (which the WHO is aware of but doesn’t like to publicise). 

The WHO’s campaign to weaponize every half-truth, falsehood and bare-faced lie in its armoury to stop people quitting smoking with vapes continued with the WHO Europe account contributing further dishonesty. It posted the long-debunked claim that vaping is a youth gateway to smoking, only to be served a community note hours later effortlessly disproving the propaganda. 

On this evidence, it is becoming fair to say that, whatever time of day it is where you are in the world, a WHO employee has probably already dreamed up at least one lie since waking up.

What happens next?
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of WHO offices when they see that their cleverly-crafted misleading of the global public is called out. It must be galling that they are being challenged on their mendacity. Where do they go from here?

Copwatch would suggest that a good way of avoiding being embarrassed by a community note on X is to post only truthful statements backed up by rigorous scientific evidence. It is what the WHO was originally formed to do, after all.