Fake news began as a way of fooling your enemies. These days the target population is anyone with a computer or a friend who has one. What makes us so susceptible to believing a lot of the nonsense about the coronavirus on the now-flooded social media sites?
Firstly, Covid-19 (a new expression in itself) has introduced us to a lot of scientific terms which we hardly knew before. Very few people before the outbreak could define a pathogen or tell you what an epidemiologist did. How many of us, even now, can clearly distinguish between an epidemic and a pandemic? Amid all this confusion about terminology, it is easy for some to fall into the trap of believing rumors such as the virus was manufactured in a Chinese or American laboratory for biological warfare or was created by use of the 5G wireless communications network.
Whenever you read on social media that “I have a close relative who works in a laboratory,” or similar, the chances are you are breaking into fake news. The suggestions that transmission can occur through mosquito bites or that chloroquine is a wonder-drug for corona sufferers are without any sound scientific foundation. But, then again, scientists don’t always agree do they? At first the World Health Organization said wearing a mask was pointless for non-infected persons but they have recently changed their opinion. So why should we believe government experts?
Another clue that you may be reading fake news is to check if the item fits in with your general opinions in any case. If you don’t like China and the Chinese you may be more inclined to believe the virus can arrive on parcels sent from China. If you live in a hot climate such as Thailand’s, it is reassuring to hear the argument that the virus dies in the heat of the sun. But, if so, it’s hard to explain the recent outbreaks in Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria.
Yet another indication that fake news is lurking occurs when there is an advertising dimension to make money. So if you read that consuming cannabis is good for preventing infection, your suspicions should be aroused. Not to mention you would be committing a crime in Thailand. There are also claims that certain antibiotics commonly available in pharmacies can cure the infection in spite of the stark truth that any antibiotic is useless to treat a virus rather than to fight bacteria.
Finally, there is false news which is click-bait pure and simple: that is an attempt to get you to read something sensational. One social media site, popular in Thailand, recently proclaimed that you could kill an actual (or potential) Covid-19 infection by holding your breath for three minutes. And the best of luck! Another click-bait lured you with the promise that having sex with your partner whilst both are standing is much safer virus-wise than performing the act lying down. Such notions on the internet can go viral, an apt term indeed.
Fake news is here to stay. Social media sites say they monitor nonsense but their track record is modest to say the least. Countries across the world have introduced laws, cash fines and prison sentences, but punitive action has mostly been limited to a handful of cases. In any case, fake news is now part of the state apparatus in many states to control the population, spectacularly so in Brazil and (in my opinion) the United States. Whatever your standpoint, there is little doubt the world is fighting not only a pandemic but an infodemic at the same time.