Coronavirus: Fake news and conspiracies begin to spread

Coronavirus: Fake news and conspiracies begin to spread
A lot of misinformation is going around on social media about the coronavirus. Credit: Belga/CC BY 2.0

A lot of fake news and misinformation about the coronavirus (Covid-19) is being spread on social media, as cases have started popping up all over Europe.

The coronavirus outbreak has sparked what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling an "infodemic", as an overwhelming amount of information is being shared on social media and websites, most of it inaccurate.

So many tales and other misconceptions have been going around, that the WHO published a "Myth Busters" list with the aim to put an end to the "remedies" for coronavirus. The list deconstructs 13 rumours going around mainly on social media and gives some explanation as to why, for example, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill the new coronavirus.

Many theories revolve around eating garlic, as it is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties, with claims it should be mixed with other healthy and "disease-preventing" foods such as honey.

Credit: Screengrab Twitter

Translation: "My mother received a message on Whatsapp that said that if you eat honey mixed with garlic you will not get the coronavirus. It has been two days that she wants me to eat this."

Other misconceptions are that hand dryers and ultraviolet disinfection lamps can kill the virus, or that regularly rinsing your nose with saline helps to prevent infection.

Credit: Screengrab Twitter

Translation: "I don't think that this is worse than another flu.. a wind to push vaccines on a large scale, that's for sure! I'm going to keep eating well and never get a vaccine for that!!!"

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on 30 January 30 2020. Credit: Factcheck AFP

In addition to people sharing false information on how to cure those infected by the virus, several conspiracy theories are also circulating online. The most widespread ones are that Covid-19 was a lab-made bioweapon created by Chinese scientists, or that it was launched by the United States as a result of the trade agreement signed with China.

Credit: Screengrab Twitter

Translation: "Is this "coronavirus" not less dangerous than they make us believe compared to the flu!? Isn't it propaganda of neoliberal states and harsh regimes? Nothing is to be excluded without falling into the old conspiracy theory."

Other prevalent theories see a connection between the coronavirus to the rollout of 5G networks in the part of China where it originated, claiming the virus is a coverup for all the radiation-related deaths.

Credit: Screengrab Youtube

Combatting disinformation 

To combat fake news, French press agency AFP has launched a Fact Check website, that debunks many false claims and provides more accurate information. Additionally, the Belgian FPS Public Health has also launched a website, which accumulates official information about the virus.

The basic protective measures against the new coronavirus, according to the WHO, are:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider
  • if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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