Truth or Fake

Covid tests reacting to tap water? Fact-checking with high schoolers

We visited the students of Paul Valery high school in Paris to fact-check this video!
We visited the students of Paul Valery high school in Paris to fact-check this video! © Observers

For French Press and Media in Schools Week 2022, the FRANCE 24 Observers teamed up with a class of 10th graders at Paul Valéry high school in Paris for this special episode of Truth or Fake. The students found videos on TikTok, Twitter and Facebook that claimed to show Covid-19 self-tests reacting positively to tap water. They investigated and disproved the claim, with the help of a virologist.

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Between January and February, the FRANCE 24 Observers team met with a class of students at the Paul Valéry high school in Paris to answer their questions about disinformation and to share tips on how to sort out the real from the fake.

The students were particularly interested in the misinformation circulating around the Covid-19 pandemic, especially videos showing self-tests reacting positively to tap water. For some people online, these videos proved that Covid-19 could be present in tap water. Others questioned how reliable Covid self-tests really are. 

In class, students researched and noticed that similar videos were circulating in other countries, such as Spain and the UK. They decided to talk to Laurent Andreolleti, a virologist at the University Hospital of Reims, in a video interview.

Students at Paul Valéry high school in video consultation with a virologist.
Students at Paul Valéry high school in video consultation with a virologist. © Observateurs

To use a self-test, "you have to read the instructions, follow each of the steps correctly and use only the elements that are in the box in order to have a good result", explained Laurent Andreolleti.

He also responded to rumours about the presence of Covid-19 in water: 

If you put water or Coke, whatever you want on the test, it is not made for that. It will change the parameters of the test because it's just a colorimetric test with an oxidation. So, at that point, it's not valid anymore. If I put water, it's a false positive, there's no infectious virus in the water. 

Water, as such, can contain fragments of Covid RNA, especially waste water. But in tap water, there are none. In any case, even in tap water, there is no infectious virus. Any test used in any way can be falsified.

Once all the elements were gathered to dismantle the false claims made on social networks about self-tests, the students filmed and presented their own episode of Truth or Fake. 

This media education project, carried out in partnership with the Centre for Media and Information Education (CLEMI), was featured in a report broadcast on FRANCE 24 for the Press and Media in Schools Week (see below).

The Truth or Fake team visited a Paris high school for this special edition of our show.
The Truth or Fake team visited a Paris high school for this special edition of our show. © Observers

>> Read on The Observers: Truth or Fake 2022: Debunking fake news with high-school students