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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

The Infodemic – fake Covid-19 news spreading like a virus



PHOTO: Be informed and don't consume illogical rubbish news about Covid-19 - Bangkok Post

Social media messages peddling fake Covid-19 cures, dire warnings of draconian lockdowns that prompt panic buying, propaganda by celebrities who should know better – all this and more in the latest viral outbreak, the Infodemic.

Some popular myths about Covid-19 below

Disinformation, ‘fake news’, misinformation, just plain propaganda… it’s not just harmless gossip, it can help to spread the coronavirus and undermine government and health officials’ ability to mount a properly co-ordinated and intelligent response.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organisation has addressed the problem many times since the outbreak kicked off in China at the start of the year.

“We’re concerned about the levels of rumours and misinformation that are hampering the response.”

“But we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

Apart from the sociopaths and psychopaths who just spread rubbish news and conspiracy theories ‘for the fun of it’, there’s also the people who are trying to make a buck from the poorly educated and gullible who are wading through the internet for real news about Covid-19. Clicks generate money and fake news on Covid-19 generates clicks.

Quack remedies, spiritual cures, convoluted theories with zero evidence and politically charged rhetoric play well in driving traffic.

In a recent blog the Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis (SOMA) says “conspiracy theories related to the origins of this virus have been created. Some of these have been translated and shared by websites that are known for profiting on disinformation”.

Following the European Commission Communication on tackling online disinformation, SOMA has been launched to provide support to a European community that will jointly fight disinformation.

“Some of the misleading health tips – drinking lots of water or eating raw ginger to counter the coronavirus – also end up on the mainstream news outlets. This risks undermining public trust in new sources generally. By the way, drinking adequate water every day is certainly a benefit to your health, but it’s not a cure for Covid-19.

Beyond the misinformation there are also ‘harmful ‘cures’ advertised for sale on social media and by irresponsible online conspiracy theorists. Making money out of people’s ignorance and suffering.

The WHO has also set up a ‘Myth Busters’ section on its website to deal specifically with some of the false claims that are circulating.

Here’s a few other false facts and fake news that has been circulating on social media…

The new coronavirus can be spread by mosquito bites and in Chinese food

Wrong. Covid-19 causes a respiratory disease that spreads primarily via droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes out, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Mosquitos can spread Dengue (don’t we know!) and Chinese food can usually only spread a satisfying serve of special fried rice (and other delicious menu items).

Regularly rinsing your nose with salt and water can prevent infection

Wrong. There is zero evidence that regularly rinsing out your nose with saline solution has protected anyone. It will not prevent you from catching respiratory infections. It will be extremely uncomfortable and probably make you cough and splutter, making people think you have Covid-19.

Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body can protect you against Covid-19 infection and… gargling bleach or drinking excessive amounts of water can flush out the virus

Wrong and Wrong. There is no evidence to support either of these ridiculous claims. Good hygiene practices and frequent hand washing plus the well-established practice of social distancing may help reduce the risk of infection. (Actually if you lock yourself up in a Nunery, without any nuns (or anyone else) you can guarantee you won’t catch Covid-19… until you eventually leave the nunnery).

Hand dryers are effective in killing the new coronavirus

Wrong. Hand dryers are not effective against Covid-19. But drying your hands with an air dryer, or hair dryer, is an effective and safe way to keep your hands clean. Hair dryers are also useful for people with lots of hair, actors, make-up artists and ladyboys. We’re not sure exactly how the people coming up with idea were actually going to use the hair-dryer to prevent catching Covid-19… perhaps pointing it an infected person in the hope they will think it’s a gun?

Cold weather, hot weather, snow, eating garlic and taking a hot bath will also prevent you from getting Covid-19

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. Tell the northern Italians, living in cold weather and eating plenty of garlic, about that. Same with hot weather. Tell the people in Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan and Israel about your brilliant theory. There is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 will be affected by general weather or the seasons at this stage.

You should wear a face mask at all times when outdoors

Wrong. People who are healthy, have no symptoms and have not been diagnosed with Covid-19 do not need to wear a mask. Masks are only effective if you are coughing or sneezing – in which case you should be self isolating. The acute shortage of face masks, because of people’s over zealous response to the virus, is causing shortages for the people that need them – health care workers, patients and people displaying possible symptoms of Covid-19.


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