[Tutorial 1] Fact-checking a Claim by US President Trump: “Children are almost immune to COVID-19”

We may come across statements, images, or videos in our social media feeds that we suspect may be inaccurate or misleading. This tutorial will provide an example of how to verify a claim made by U.S. President Donald Trump in August that children are “almost immune” or “virtually immune” to COVID-19.

Say, we came across a video of a Fox News interview by U.S. President Donald Trump claiming that children are “almost immune” or “virtually immune” to COVID-19.

Figure 1: Screenshot of the interview as shared on YouTube by The Majority Report with Sam Seder

In the phone interview, President Trump speaks with FOX hosts on the Fox & Friends show on a wide range of subjects. In talking about whether children should go back to school, Trump can be heard saying, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say, definitely — but almost immune from this disease… They just don’t have a problem… They are virtually immune from this problem.”  (Note: While the original video was removed by Fox, you can hear a clip from this interview on CNN’s YouTube channel here.)

The video was later shared by Trump on Facebook and Twitter (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: @realDonaldTrump Tweet linking to an interview he did on Fox & Friends

While both Twitter and Facebook have subsequently removed these posts, at the time they were live, they had been shared thousands of times. Considering the wide distribution of Trump’s claims and the fact that he is the President of the United States, his words have the power to affect millions of people and their daily lives. 

Breaking it Down:

To fact-check Trump’s claim, we will break our analysis in two parts:

First, we will verify whether the attribution of this claim to President Trump is accurate. This part will examine the following questions:

  1. Is the video authentic?
  2. Does Donald Trump have a history of making similar claims about children’s susceptibility to COVID-19?

Second, we will verify whether a claim that “children are immune to COVID-19” is in line with the latest medical evidence. In this part, we will ask the following two questions: 

3.  Is the claim that children are immune to COVID-19 accurate?

4. Has the claim been fact-checked before?

But before moving on, we suggest archiving the content that you are fact-checking. You can use tools like Archive.is or Perma.cc to archive the page/post to be able to refer to it later. Should it be deleted in the future, you want something you can go back to, but also have evidence that the claims were made. 


1. Is the video authentic?

Video and audio recordings were once seen as trusted proof that something happened, occurred or existed. However, in recent years, bad actors have been manipulating media content and sharing it online in an attempt to influence agendas or make profit. For example, bad actors can share an authentic video, but take it out of context. They can share a staged video or reuse an old video taken at a different event/location. Bad actors can also  alter an existing video (e.g., cropped, sped up/slowed down, etc.) or even automatically generated it using deepfake software designed to recreate voices, faces or other elements of the scene.

The good news is that there are many freely accessible tools which can help us determine if a video/audio in question has been manipulated in some way or taken out of context. For example, reverse image tools like Invid, TinEye and YouTube DataViewer are helpful in determining the origin of static clips from any given video. 

In our case, we deemed that it is not necessary to use any digital tools to verify the authenticity of the video in question since the original video was broadcasted live on Fox & Friends on August 5, 2020. We find it was a real event – promoted in an article written by Fox reporter Brian Flood announcing that Donald Trump was to appear on Fox and Friends August 5. We can go to the FOX News website to see when and where it was taped. Using the Fox News video archive, we can find the video here (starting at 19:49 min). Another trusted news organization, CNN, has shared its recording on their YouTube channel

In verifying video, in other cases, it might be important to check if a particular video has been previously circulated online. This is because old videos that resurface may no longer be rooted in or reflect current reality. Old videos may have snippets cut out and presented out of context. Old videos are often manipulated to bend the truth in their “re-release.”

As an additional reference, check out Reuters’ online guide that teaches how to use different tools and strategies to identify if media files (including videos) have been manipulated in some way. 

2. Does Donald Trump have a history of making similar claims about children’s susceptibility to COVID-19?

Since the start of the pandemic, Trump has made several questionable statements about childrens’ immunity to COVID-19. 

To answer this question, we went back to Google Fact-Check Explorer and searched the terms “Donald Trump” and “children.”  We also looked through the President’s briefings from the White House and C-SPAN, a television network which broadcasts government proceedings.

  • August 5, the day after Trump’s Fox & Friends statement, he appeared at a press conference at the White House, answering questions and said “if you look at children, they’re able to throw it off very easily.” We found this in a C-Span video, at approximately 1:05.
  • August 10, in a news conference, Trump told reporters, “I think, for the most part, they don’t get very sick,” he said of children. “… It’s also a case where there’s a tiny fraction of death, tiny fraction, and they get better very quickly.” See C-Span video at approximately 25:50. 

3.  Is the claim that children are immune to COVID-19 accurate?

Now that we confirmed that the video is authentic and that President Trump has made similar claims before, it is time to verify whether the actual claim that children are immune to COVID-19 is accurate.

To verify this claim, we should start by finding out what credible sources of health information like the World Health Organization – WHO (an agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC (a national public health institute in the United States) or Mayo Clinic (a nonprofit academic medical center) say about this. 

To learn if one of these organizations made any statements regarding this claim, let’s use Google’s search operator “site:” to narrow our search to information posted by one of the trusted sources. For example, the following search will return pages from CDC’s website that mention relevant keywords like: “children”, “immune”, and “covid” (see Figure 3)

Figure 3: Google Search Results of CDC.gov pages mentioning  keywords “children,” “immune,” and “covid” 

We can see that the first three links returned by Google seem to contain relevant information to verify Trump’s claim. In particular, the “COVID-19 in Children and Teens” page states that “while fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, can get sick from COVID-19, and can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to others.”

The CDC notes that while children may have milder symptoms of COVID-19, “some children can get severely ill,” require hospitalization, ventilation, intensive care and in rare cases, die. The CDC also notes that medical professionals are investigating a rare inflammatory condition in children associated with COVID-19 called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

In addition to the domain-restricted Google search, we can also use one of the trusted sources of COVID-related cases to find out if there are any reported cases of this disease among children. For instance, in the U.S., according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, children aged 5-17 account for 7.2 per cent of cases (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Cases by Age Group in the U.S. (based on data from 9,056,149 cases). Source: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics (retrieved on Nov 11, 2020) 

In sum, based on the information from the trusted health authorities, we confirmed that Donald Trump’s claim children are “almost” immune to COVID-19” is not in line with the latest medical evidence. 

4. Has the claim been fact-checked before?

As a way to confirm our analysis, we can check if this claim has also been reviewed by other fact-checking organizations and/or social media platforms. 

We use Google Fact Check Explorer to search for relevant fact-checked claims using keywords like “COVID,” “children” and “almost immune.” The system locates one review of this claim done by Politifact, which also determined it was false.

By doing some additional web searching (in particular, using Google News Search), we learned that social media platforms also fact-checked this claim. For example, shortly after the video was shared online, Facebook and Twitter removed it from their platforms. In a statement, Facebook said: “This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19, which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation”. Similarly, Twitter took down the video, which was also tweeted by Trump’s  re-election campaign account, @teamtrump, and blocked the account from posting until the clip was removed, because the tweet was “in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation.”

Our Assessment

Based on our review, we determined that (1) President Trump indeed claimed that “children are almost immune to COVID-19”, but (2) this claim is not accurate as it goes against the current medical evidence.