Social media platforms are busy taking down false information about the Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has killed more than 300 people in China and 1 in the Philippines so far. It has infected more than 14,000 globally. The epidemic has triggered worldwide panic as many countries are evacuating their citizens from China’s Hubei Province.
People around the world are seeking information from social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Unfortunately, they also tend to believe and share what they read without thinking twice and cross-checking the validity of the information they find.
Widely Shared Misleading Info About The Coronavirus
The virus was leaked from a biowarfare lab: One of the pieces of supposed information that has gone viral quickly is that of the origin of the virus. Many internet users quickly believed the claim made by Daniel Shoham that the coronavirus may have originated from the leaked Wuhan Institute of Virology.
This news quickly went viral on social media and got millions of views. However, not all internet users were aware that Shoham also stated that there was no evidence to support the claim. The Daily Star also published similar content but later revised it by saying there was no valid evidence to support the argument.
Misleading health advice: As people worry about the spread of the new coronavirus, good advice is a priority. One of the most-shared pieces of information is that we can prevent the infection from spreading by keeping our throat moist.
This advice went viral in various Whatsapp groups in India (as well as other countries like Indonesia). It falsely included a Ministry of Health stamp of approval to convince people that the advice is valid. However, after several fact-checking efforts, there is no verified claim that a moist throat can prevent coronavirus. The related ministry only issued a travel advisory to those traveling to and from China.
False alarms: Reports of contaminated people in France’s departments of Val d’Oise, Savoie, Lot-et-Garonne, and Pyrenees-Orientales have dominated social media channels. These fraudulent reports looked like they were taken from reliable French sources, including AFP.
In Indonesia, false alarms also raised panic after several posts circulated in social media showing patients infected with the new coronavirus in some parts of the country. The information turned out to be false.
Chinese-made products transmit the new coronavirus: A broadcast message in a viral Whatsapp group said that the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia issued a warning not to use China-made products due to the infection. The embassy confirmed it has never issued such a warning. Therefore, the message was a hoax.
Distorted information on pets transmitting the virus: Animal lovers expressed their anger after seeing horrifying images of people throwing their cats and dogs from their apartments to death, afraid that those pets will transmit the new coronavirus.
The Sun reported that the incident was triggered by Dr. Li Lanjuan, who said: “If pets come into contact with suspected patients, they should be quarantined.”
However, local Chinese media outlets said that cats and dogs can spread coronavirus. That information went viral on China’s social media channel Weibo.
China Global Television Network (CGTN) tackled that false information by posting quotes from the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizing that there is no evidence showing that cats and dogs can be infected with coronavirus.
Social Media’s Efforts to Combat The Widespread Hoaxes
Facebook and Twitter are taking anticipatory measures to fight against misinformation on the outbreak. They continue to monitor and verify whether the information posted in their platforms is valid or not.
Twitter, for example, has adjusted a request on a search for #coronavirus, as published in Twitter’s public policy account.
“We want to help you access credible information, especially when it comes to public health. We’ve adjusted our search prompt in key countries across the globe to feature authoritative health sources when you search for terms related to novel #coronavirus,” Twitter said in its @Policy account.
It is important for internet users to verify the information they receive before they share. False information can harm other people’s lives and lead to unnecessary panic.