Have child mask mandates caused “irreversible brain damage?”

By April 18, 2024 Health

Posts sharing this article on social media have been circulating online. The article claims that a British Medical Journal review found that “forcing children to wear masks” during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused “irreversible brain damage.”Previous eye-grabbing claims that we have fact-checked in the past often fail to include the studies they reference. In this case, however, the article directly links to the British Medical Journal  review in its first paragraph before highlighting some of the review’s findings.

Titled Child mask mandates for COVID-19: a systematic review, the article is a 5-page review of existing studies on the efficacy of child mask mandate published by the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a peer-reviewed journal under the British Medical Journal umbrella. It aimed to assess if current studies sufficiently justify the implementation of mask mandates as a preventative measure against Covid-19. After carrying out several risk-of-bias analyses on selected studies, the authors conclude that there is “no high-quality evidence” of real-world effectiveness.

However, while the review offers suggestions for further research and comments on existing research, any mention of brain damage – irreversible or otherwise – is conspicuously absent. Upon reading through the article in full, we could only find a 300-word section discussing potential (as yet unproven) issues associated with early childhood perpetual masking; none of which include brain damage. Instead, a single mention of masking leading to a “rapid increase in CO2 content in inhaled air” seemed to have been cynically misinterpreted by the article as “permanent brain damage” from the body being “depleted of oxygen.”BDR has previously fact-checked multiple claims made by this same platform – The People’s Voice.  The platform, which uses a “fact-checked” label on its articles despite not being a fact-checking platform, has a history of producing eye-catching headlines which do not accurately represent the subject being reported on.

Similarly, this claim appears to also be using the tactic of a startling headline which is completely unsubstantiated. The article uses the “British Medical Journal” as a source (even linking it directly), while also misrepresenting its findings. Therefore, no study has found that child mask mandates caused irreversible brain damage – no original research was conducted, and the cited review does not include any mention of brain damage. We give this claim a rating of false.

While the original article was posted in December of 2023 (and even debunked by Lead Stories shortly after), no changes or corrections have been made.  We’ve noticed this pattern of previously debunked articles being shared again with misleading claims being repeated on X, with specific accounts posting constantly to thousands of users.

The account which began re-sharing this particular claim, healthbot has a blue checkmark (which provides it higher visibility) and posts extremely frequently. At the time of writing, we counted over 30 posts across a 24-hour window. These posts include articles (such as this one), memes about alternative medicine, health advice, and various conspiracies about medical organisations.We noted similar X accounts focusing on different topics with the same posting patterns – all with large follower counts. Healthbot has over 400,000 followers, while others have follower counts in the millions.These accounts are frequent and perennial sources of unverifiable and misleading claims. Despite many eventually being labelled with community notes, their posts receive thousands (and sometimes millions) of views – adding to the spread and sheer volume of mis/disinformation on social media.

Although it is near impossible to completely avoid accounts that intentionally spread false claims at high volumes, being aware of their patterns and behaviours is an important part of being aware and critical media consumers. While it is not always the case that every post is misinformation, accounts like this should be viewed with an extremely critical eye before taking the content they share and produce as true or reliable.

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