SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, is genomically similar to a SARS-like beta-coronavirus found in Asian rhinolophid bats. This evolutionary relationship impressed the global media, which then emphasised bats as key actors in the spillover that resulted in the pandemic. In this study, we highlight changes in the traditional and new media coverage of bats and in Internet search volumes that occurred since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.We analysed Google and Wikipedia searches for bats and coronaviruses in 21 countries and eight languages, as well as television broadcasts in the USA, some of which have global coverage, between January 2016 and December 2020. In January 2020, the amount of television news about bats boomed, and news associated with the term 'bat' shifted to COVID-19-related topics. A nearly identical pattern was observed in Google searches during 2020 at the global scale. The daily time series of television coverage and Internet search volumes on bats and coronavirus in the USA covaried in the first quarter of 2020, in line with the existence of a media bubble. Time-series analysis revealed that both the Google Trends index and visits to Wikipedia pages about bats boomed in early 2020, despite the fact that this time of year is usually characterised by low search volumes.Media coverage emphasised, correctly or not, the role of bats in the COVID-19 pandemic and amplified public interest in bats worldwide. The public image of these mammals, in many cases threatened and important ecosystem service providers, was seriously compromised. We therefore recommend that policymakers and journalists prioritise scientifically accurate communication campaigns about bats, which would help counteract the surge in bat persecution, and leverage interest towards positive human-bat interactions.
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