Fake images of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the communication of information at the beginning of the first Covid-19 pandemic

Celia Andreu Sánchez, Miguel Ángel Martín-Pascual

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The first real images of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, were obtained between January 24 and March 5, 2020 using various electron microscopy techniques. However, since March 2020, it has been most common to see drawn, designed, or interpreted images in three dimensions, sometimes even representing different or directly invented viruses. This analysis studies a sample of images supposedly of SARS-CoV-2 that appeared at the beginning of this pandemic on the internet. Fake images or imaginary illustrations of the Covid-19 coronavirus predominate in all sources of information examined, except for those documented in encyclopedias or scientific articles. Rather than real images, the media have used more fake images of the coronavirus, often from repositories or paid stocks, usually freely available. When presenting SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus content, the use of fake, unrealistic, esthetically retouched illustrations is more common than actual or scientific photographs of the virus. The reference image used in the media and other information sources of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is a retouched three-dimensional, color design image for illustration rather than an actual image. The original, real images of the coronavirus did not have the expected informative presence in an emergency situation. The use of unrealistic images of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus seems to be a manifestation of a low-intensity infodemic. However, information professionals must use rigorous images to support their information, also in the case of the Covid-19.
Translated title of the contributionImágenes falsas del coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 en la comunicación de la información al comienzo de la pandemia del Covid-19
Original languageEnglish
JournalProfesional de la Información
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Covid-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Coronavirus
  • Disinformation
  • Infodemic
  • Pandemics
  • Fake images
  • Scientific information
  • Scientific documentation
  • Information sources
  • Databases
  • Repositories
  • Scientific photography
  • Pandemias
  • Desinformación
  • Infodemias
  • Imágenes falsas
  • Información científica
  • Documentación científica
  • Fuentes de información
  • Repositorios
  • Bases de datos
  • Fotografía científica


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