The disease itself may not be as dangerous as the fallacies it carries.
Social media — the platform for the outrageous, mundane and everything in between. Every bit of information disseminated on our smartphones wherever, whenever. No need to sit at home and watch the evening news. No need to read the papers. It’s at our fingertips, literally, 24/7.
At times, it’s a good thing. At other times, it isn’t. Why? Misinformation. And, thus, it’s only unfortunate (and troubling) that false reports can spread faster than any viral pathogen.
The new coronavirus was detected late last year in China’s Hubei province with now over 31,500 confirmed cases worldwide -almost entirely in China- of which almost 640 people have died. Only two deaths were reported outside of China.
However, millions have already been exposed to erroneous information about the virus. It’s hard to precisely gauge how unfounded information impacts society but we all know its effects are insidious to the psyche. From manipulating the narrative and twisting people’s perspective, it hurts us one way or another. Misinformation is as dire as the viral outbreak itself. Here are some of them, spread and shared:
Chinese people eating bat soup caused the virus
The most alarming piece of misinformation is that of the outbreak caused by Chinese people eating bats. To support this narrative, footage of a Chinese woman eating a bat in her soup accompanied a worrisome headline: “Revolting footage shows Chinese woman eating a whole bat at a fancy restaurant as scientists link the deadly coronavirus to the flying mammals”, it reads.
Spread by numerous newspapers and on social media, it was enough fuel to ignite racial hostility and exclusion. In its entirety, the report is not completely false but it’s also not completely true. As it turns out, this footage was filmed last 2016 in Palau, Micronesia, not in Wuhan, China, for a travel blog video.
Scientists believe that the new coronavirus may have come from bats. For this reason, the nearly 3-year-old video was dug out, its original context dissected and warped just so it fits into this repackaged version of facts. This new rendition of truth is neatly repackaged for larger mass consumption, traversing the world faster than all the “Made in China” goods in the world ever could.
It’s a population control plot
Supporters of the pro-Trump QAnon movement claimed that the outbreak was a deliberate population control plot by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Jordan Sather, a proponent of the aforementioned theory, claimed in a thread that there was a coronavirus patent granted to a firm with a connection to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The firm in question, Pirbright, has already issued a statement rectifying the false claim — the firm researches a coronavirus that infects poultry and pigs, not people.
Too much TV, one can assume.
Bioweapon, 5G claims, etc.
Speculations regarding the origins of the virus involve the Wuhan Institute of Virology, suggesting the coronavirus was an inadvertent result of biological weapons research. But discussions with The Washington Post had experts refuting said rumors, saying the virus wasn’t engineered “based on the virus genome and properties”.
Other false information on social media includes 5G being the culprit and insinuating that its rollout in Wuhan, China (which claimed to be the very first) weakened people’s immunity, hence, aggravating the virulence of even an ordinary cold.
And if there are baseless theories about the origin of the outbreak, there are also claims on how to prevent or cure it. “Oregano Oil Proves Effective Against Coronavirus”, a Facebook post reads. What’s the saying? If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t? Yes, that’s the one. There’s no credence to it, of course. The original post is decade old and was first posted on a holistic care website.
You can get the virus from drinking Corona, the beer.
Corona, for those who don’t know, is a Mexican beer. According to Business Insider, searches along the lines of “corona beer virus” have been on the rise since January 18th, as news of the virus spread; for no reason other than the fact that they share a similar name. As of now, there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Mexico (knock on wood). There is literally no reason for anyone to fear drinking the beer, other than if they were afraid of becoming so inebriated that they drunkenly booked a flight to Wuhan and snuck past all the quarantine roadblocks. Call us pessimistic but the chances of that happening are slim to none. Keep calm, crack a cold one.
What’s being done about it?
Tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter are now implementing courses of action to stop or even at least reduce the misinformation. Facebook recently issued fact checks, leading to inaccurate posts getting labeled and their ranks lowered in users’ daily feeds. Twitter began redirecting coronavirus-related hashtags to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Google, meanwhile, has its algorithm prioritizing more reliable sources. Of course, people also need to be vigilant and prudent at their end. You don’t want to be a carrier of bad information.