Fake news goes viral – in the time of Coronavirus

First switch on your brain, then read carefully, then decide what’s right, what’s wrong, and what needs checking.

If there was ever a time for fake news to go viral, it’s now. You can publish anything with “coronavirus” in the title and people will clickity clickit. Even better if it instills fear. Who cares if a few of the facts are you know, not quite correct…

This matters because masses of us (me included) mindlessly scroll our facebook feeds, clicking on every coronavirus blog post, graphic and article. What we read affects how we feel, how we react and what we do. Every error-ridden article that instills fear can push our mental health down a notch. Or fuel a run on toilet paper. Or encourage us to stockpile masks…

I present 3 cases of fake news I’ve observed over the last few weeks, both from viral blog posts and the mainstream media.

Fake news no.1
“In Italy, doctors are having to decide who is worth saving”

When the clickbait article is entitled I need you to read this…”, your bullsh!% radar should already be going ding ding ding. She propagated the  myth that Italian doctors are forced to decide who should survive and who dies. Currently Italian doctors  are stretched to the limit, but The Lombardy health chiefhas stated they aren’t turning critically ill away. “Gallera denied that ICU capacity was so limited that doctors had changed the criteria for ICU admissions.”

The Italian health system (and others) might well reach that point, but they haven’t yet.

Fake news no.2
“Coronavirus deaths and cases spike”

The BBC had the nerve to lead with this, after the number of new cases in China had been reducing for over a week! China had changed their case definition, which made the reported number of cases artificially increase, while the real number continued to drop. China had been doing an amazing job, and if I had to pick the headline, I might have gone for the opposite. “Coronavirus cases plummet” or “China defies the odds to control the virus”.

China coronavirus cases.png
In this light, it’s a bit rich that the the BBC thinks that they are above major errors. “Over the past month, 12 February to 11 March, there have been over 575m page views globally to stories about coronavirus. People want trusted information and – unlike Megyn Kelly – know where to turn”. The BBC has proved more than once they are far from immune from using fake news to go viral. Another shocker was “There is no specific cure or vaccine. A number of people, however, have recovered after treatment.” By “a number of people” I take it you mean 98% percent of people? Nice one BBC… To their credit though, they did  remove this statement eventually.

Fake news no.3
“One of many tidbits of misinformation the president has broadcast during the coronavirus outbreak is his belief that warm weather will halt the spread of COVID-19. “The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,”

This New York magazine article popped up at the top of my feed when I googled “Weather and coronavirus”. Trump spouts so many lies about coronavirus and everything else, why did they bash on a rare statement that is largely true? Heat, generally speaking does kill this virus. What’s more bizarre is that the second half of this ‘publication’ contradicts the title and first paragraph, quoting a scientific article which states that hot weather will in fact, slow the spread of the virus. Absolute trash journalism!

A not yet peer reviewed Chinese study  showed that Coronavirus appeared to spread best in chilly temperatures of around 9 degrees celsius, and in a much better AlJazeera article one virologist stated that coronavirus is “not very heat-resistant, which means that the virus quickly breaks down when temperatures rise”.

This is just the tip of the fake news iceberg, and there’s plenty more coming soon so…

First switch on your brain, then read carefully, then decide what’s right, what’s wrong, and what needs checking.

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3 Responses to Fake news goes viral – in the time of Coronavirus

  1. calebmorgan says:

    Thanks Nick. What advice do you have for determining what’s right and wrong in what we read? (I mean when there aren’t obvious clues that you would notice anyway when reading slowly and carefully)

    • ntlaing says:

      Great question Caleb it’s really not easy. Given your blogging history I might even throw the question back at you :D. Perhaps avoid blog posts or take them with a grain of salt (coming from a blogger :D) Sticking to mainstream news outlets helps but not foolproof obviously as the BBC has shown! Online fact checkers like snopes can sometimes work, for example https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/italy-elderly-coronavirus/. General googling to see where the weight of evidence is sometimes convinces me, but sometimes the fake news can prevail on the google search too!

  2. Sharyn says:

    Great summary Nick.

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