The deadly coronavirushas captured the world’s attention as the number of people affected continues to rise. As of Feb. 14, 64,000 people have been infected and more than 1,380 have died. The biggest mobile tech show of the year, Mobile World Congress, has been canceled over concerns about the virus. A fear of being infected has led to a rise of various reports and rumors about the spread of coronavirus and how to how to protect yourself from infection. Unfortunately, many of them are harmful or racist and aren’t helping protect anyone.
The false reports so far have made claims about a vaccine, the source of the virus and patents placed on the disease. People are even generating conspiracy theories to capitalize on the panic. Even worse, some are circulating information that’s simply racist propaganda disguised as health warnings.
The World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday, but the internet storm and overall tone of panic in much of the messaging remains unnecessarily alarmist and overwhelming. It’s important to understand the facts about the coronavirus, and know how to spot what information is inaccurate so it can be reported and not circulated further.
Fact checkers from 30 countries are currently working to help debunk and prevent the spread of further false information across media platforms. Social media platforms like Facebook are also taking steps to prevent the spread of false information. Facebook has hired three third-party fact-checking organizations to monitor content and help trigger warning labels that users see when they’re viewing false information.
“Several of our third-party fact-checking partners around the world have rated content false so we are dramatically reducing its distribution and people who see this content, try to share it, or already have, are alerted that it’s false,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “This situation is fast-evolving and we will continue our outreach to global and regional health organizations to provide support and assistance.”
A reporter at Bloomberg media pointed out that if you search for “coronavirus” on Twitter, the social media site will direct you to visit the US Centers for Disease Results and Prevention website for information about the illness.
Twitter on Wednesday published a blog post stating its intention to stop the spread of misleading information, and pointing people to credible sources. “We’ve seen over 15 million tweets on this topic in the past four weeks and that trend looks set to continue,” Twitter employees wrote in the statement.
Below are some of the trending reports that have popped up online and been proven false.
Hal Turner Radio show falsely reports how many people are infected and have died from coronavirus
Third-party fact checker Lead Stories, one of the third-party fact checkers hired by Facebook, debunked a report that said 2.8 million people are infected and 112,000 are dead.is that China’s National Health Commission has reported that 6,000 citizens are infected and over 130 people have died.
Daily Mail video of Chinese woman eating bat soup gives misleading information about the origin of the coronavirus
A video and article being circulated from the Daily Mail falsely reports that the coronavirus may be linked to contaminated bat soup.a specific meat and seafood market in Wuhan (which does sell bats and snakes) that could be a common connection between those infected, although the first confirmed case could not be linked to this market. Scientists have not confirmed that the disease for sure originated from any specific animal, and certainly not the contaminated soup shown in the viral post.
Fake, racist health alert issued in Australia telling people to avoid Chinese-populated areas
A fake report issued in Australia warned people to stay away from areas heavily populated by Chinese people. The report circulated from what appeared to be the Queensland Department of Health, and was confirmed as false by the state government. A similar report, apparently from the “Bureau of Diseasology” warned people to stay away from particular Australian train stations and areas known to “contain traces of corona’s disease.” The Bureau of Diseasology does not exist.
Lead Stories spots a hoax shared on social media claiming a student in Ghana created a vaccine for coronavirus
We know that there is no vaccine for this virus, and there likely won’t be one for possibly months or years. Since it’s a new virus, there has simply not been enough time for scientists to develop one. The site New7pm.com is known by media watchdogs and fact-checking groups like Lead Stories to regularly spread false news and information.
Other extreme conspiracy theories are being generated like the false claim that Bill Gates is involved with the outbreak and the seriously dangerous suggestion that people should drink bleach to avoid it. There have also been claims that a virology lab in Wuhan is responsible for the outbreak, based on a logo that appears similar to the one used in zombie video game franchise Resident Evil.
How to spot legit info vs. falsified reports
If you see reports that seem extreme, look suspicious or come from an unfamiliar source, it’s important to take time to evaluate the information before you share or buy into it. You should also report the information to the appropriate person (like the platform you found the post on).
Facebook has a resource page on how to spot fake news reports or posts that are circulating on the internet. Some of its tips include being careful to evaluate headlines that look extreme or have exclamation points, check for tampered dates or images that look altered and try to cross-verify the news with several other major news outlets. Here’s how to report a post on Facebook.
The News Literacy Project is another helpful resource, as is this guide from Stony Brook University. If you spot any news reports or posts that you suspect are fake, it’s important to report them and not to share them.
Another fantastic fact-checking resource is Snopes.com, which has been providing routine updates on some of the more fanciful claims emanating from the web so far. Worth checking out if a claim seems too good to be true.