Has the World Health Organisation ordered governments to cancel elections because of bird flu?

We’ve seen this claim on X and Facebook about the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning countries that a “bird flu outbreak” will delay or cancel elections. This claim is often accompanied by other claims about a wider conspiracy to intefere with or manipulate elections.Given that 2024 is has seen and will continue to see elections across at least 70 countries, this claim has ruffled the feathers of posters from many different countries and contexts. The article linked in many of the claim posts is by The People’s Voice – a platform frequently fact-checked by BDR and other fact-checking platformsThe article claims that the WHO labelled Bird Flu as the “next pandemic” and “deadlier than COVID,” linking a June 5 notice released by the WHO as its source. However, after following the link, it is apparent that (like its headline) the People’s Voice article seems to have completely fabricated those phrases.Reading the contents of the WHO news bulletin, we found no suggestion in the text that would (even charitably) lead to the conclusions derived by the claim article. Instead, the inflammatory headline about elections being cancelled has no basis in fact – firstly since the WHO has no policing powers over its member states, and secondly because the linked article makes no such claim either.

Rather, the WHO announced a case of bird flu (avian influenza) in Mexico and laid out public health responses, risk assessments and health advice. In a statement to AAP Factcheck, a WHO spokesperson further emphasised that the organisation both “has not” and “cannot” order governments to cancel elections.  Further, the news bulletin clearly states that the WHO accesses the “current risk to the general population posed by this virus as low.”

While avian influenza is highly contagious amongst domestic and wild birds and can have serious impacts on food supply chains, widespread, easy transmission from animal to human or  human to human has not occurred. Human infections are currently being studied to better understand the strains of avian influenza for early detection and prevention. In Singapore, there are no known cases of avian influenza. However, authorities have advised against feeding or touching wild birds as a precaution.

We therefore give this claim a rating of false.

This claim draws on several different threads which are all sensitive subjects in their own right: widespread infectious diseases, elections, potential lockdown, and the role of global bodies such as the WHO. In combination, the claim uses all the “right” buzzwords and implications to present a narrative that sparks both outrage and anxiety. Many re-posters of the claim seem to have taken the article and headline at face-value rather than doing further research (which easily proves the claim false).Beyond an individual case of misinformation, claims such as this one serve to entrench and confirm certain narratives that, in turn, feed into more mis/disinformation. With more elections slated in the second half of 2024, it is therefore important to remain alert to how these narratives are shaping the information landscape and be aware of how they can be used to disrupt and confuse.

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