Our global “new normal” that has us all quarantined or self-quarantined in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the population into a tangled web of fake news. Family and friends with whom I am in contact every day, throughout the day, along with chat groups with colleagues and parent chat groups through my children’s school, have me spinning with the incredible volume of snippets of information, audio recordings, videos and just plain texts containing fake news strewn throughout.
The dissemination of fake news, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, can prove extremely dangerous, if not possibly fatal. An audio recording that had made its way around the world, claims that, “the Chinese now understand the behavior of the COVID-19 virus, thanks to autopsies that they’ve carried out”, and directed the public to “drink lots of hot liquids” and to “take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes, because it washes away any of the virus that has entered your mouth into the stomach, where the gastric juices will neutralize it before it can get to the lungs”. It also offers a host of other seemingly helpful information. It all sounded very authoritative.
Out of curiosity, I forwarded it to relatives in Italy and Germany, and was told that is was completely fake news, and that the Italian government had to intervene and begin posting a list of various fake news posts that were being disseminated at lightning speed (this audio recording being just one), complete with claims regarding remedies that claim to fight and beat the virus. On Tuesday, I started receiving posts that advise to no longer take any ibuprofen and NSAIDS, as they might exacerbate a person’s condition if he or she contracts the Coronavirus, but to date, there haven’t been any studies conducted regarding any links between COVID-19 and ibuprofen, and since there has been a lack of consensus among medical professionals, it has made it that much easier for fake news to spread easily, and that much harder for people to separate fact from fiction.
On Wednesday, a video episode from a famous TV program in Italy, TGR Leonardo, (video above) a newscast that offers rigorous documentation and in-depth analysis across a breadth of topics such as science and technology, physics, health, the environment, economy, astronomy and society, went viral on social media, circulating around Italy and was shared with family and friends around the world, plunging Italians into panic.
This particular episode had been aired on the state-run RAI 3 station back in 2015, claiming that Chinese scientists were at the time working to merge a common bat Coronavirus with the SARS virus, and that the Chinese were creating this merged virus that could affect the human body from a protein taken from bats and mice. The host could also be heard repeatedly citing the word ‘Coronavirus’, which set off a flurry of conspiracy theorists to point to a link between this TV episode and the current global state of affairs that we’re in. Soon after the episode aired this past Wednesday, social media posts quickly began claiming that this episode’s content predicted today’s Coronavirus, and directly linked the inevitable spread of a COVID-19 back to when it first aired. No sooner had I watched this video that was sent to me, that I received a push alert from an Italian newspaper with an article entitled, “TGR Leonardo e l’esperimento cinese del 2015. Gli scienziati: ‘Nulla a che vedere col coronavirus'” (translation: TGR Leonardo program and the 2015 Chinese experiment: nothing to do with the coronavirus).
Here again is an example of how news spreads like wildfire, and while this TV episode is by no means fake news – on the contrary, this newscast is very highly esteemed — it naturally unnerved viewers, as it made its way across social media as a scoop regarding the present COVID-19. There is no current evidence that links the contents of the 2015 episode to today’s COVID-19 crisis, although the public can certainly reach the conclusion that even if not directly linked, there is something to be said about what this reportage unearthed, and how the dramatic effects of such experiments were not heeded. It is paramount, therefore, that we also safeguard such serious, real and important journalism, as is TGR Leonardo, in the wake of our global “new normal” of trying to navigate around perilous fake news.
There are various outlets that we can use to receive the most up-to-date and factual news and advice regarding COVID-19. Let’s perhaps stick to those. In the US, we can all consult the CDC on a regular basis for updates, along with our local, state and federal government websites, and heed much caution when these files, texts, audio and video files, and seemingly “official” documents are circulating. Stay safe and stay informed!
CDC Website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
NOTIFY NYC: text 692-692 to receive real-time text updates and information from the City about COVID-19.
NOTIFY NYC: text 893-61 to receive real-time texts from New York’s official source for information about emergency events and important City services.
Italian Ministry of Health for those of you with family or friends in Italy, and wish to keep informed about fake news in circulation: http://www.salute.gov.it/portale/nuovocoronavirus/dettaglioNotizieNuovoCoronavirus.jsp?lingua=italiano&menu=notizie&p=dalministero&id=4276