Have you seen chain messages or posts about COVID-19 on social media or group chats? Chances are, that “news” is bogus. Fake news about the virus has been an “infodemic” considering that bogus content circulates through the internet, social, and instant messaging faster and more easily, noted Samantha Vanderslott of The Conservation, a news and analysis website.
In fact, those viral messages or posts you often see contain incorrect or harmful information and advice about the virus, impairing public health response and incite chaos and division. Some fake news also contains bits of correct information, which can be confusing to readers. They can also be shared by your friends and family, or even by medical professionals. Possibly, they might have glossed over it or have not read the whole story. Anyone can be a bearer of fake news, so it is important to read news stories critically and fact check them to gauge their accuracy.
Research Reports On Misinformation About COVID-19
In a survey conducted by the Mass Communication department of Nafpur’s Rashtrasant Tukoji Maharaj University from March 28 to April 14, 39.1% of 1,200 respondents said 50 to 80% of information on social media was fake, according to mass communication department head Moiz Mannan Haque, cited by Hindu Business Line, India’s leading business and financial news website.
Haque, who led the study, added that about 10.8% of respondents felt that more than 80% of information on social media was fake. When asked how the respondents found a particular news story or post bogus, 36.5% said they knew after they saw an official clarification or correction by a government source.
When asked whether the media was “overplaying” the pandemic at the cost of other important news, 34.9% said they chose to remain neutral. 32.7% answered “strongly agree” and “agree” for this question, and 32.3% said “the other way around.”
Speaking of social media, Twitter has been lagging behind with regard to taking down misinformation about COVID-19, noted Carly Page of business news Forbes. Dr. J. Scott Brennan and colleagues of think tank Reuters Institute found that 59% of posts on Twitter were rated as false in the samples but remain up. 27% of posts on YouTube remain up and 24% of false content remains up without warning labels on Facebook.
The researchers sampled 225 pieces of content that independent fact checkers had flagged as false or misleading between January and March. 88% of the samples appeared on social media, followed by TV (9%), news outlet (8%), or those that appeared on other sites (7%).
59% of the samples were reconfigured misinformation, with 29% being misleading content, 24% being false content, and 6% being manipulated content. Meanwhile, 30% were fabricated content and 8% were imposter content, showing that 38% of the samples were fabricated misinformation. 3% were satire/parody.
High-level politicians, celebrities, and other prominent figures (top down) produced or spread only 20% of the misinformation in the sample. However, they comprised 69% of total social media engagements.
The most common claims within pieces of misinformation were those of the actions or policies that public authorities are launching to combat COVID-19 (39%), followed by claims that concern the spread of the virus through communities as well as claims regarding general medicine (24%). Other claims within pieces of misinformation included the following: prominent actors (23%), conspiracy theories (17%), how COVID-19 spreads (16%), virus origins (12%), public preparedness (6%), and vaccine development (5%).
5 Fake COVID-19 Health Advice That Should Not Be Followed
1. Heat and Avoiding Ice Cream
There are different versions of the advice to suggest that heat kills the virus, as noted by the Reality Check Team of BBC, a British news channel. There are even false action plans such as drinking hot water, taking hot baths, or using hairdryers. One post that was passed around by social media users in different countries and falsely attributed to UNICEF claimed that drinking hot water and exposing yourself under the sun would kill the virus. It also said that ice cream should be avoided.
Charlotte Gornitzka, who works for UNICEF on coronavirus misinformation, debunked the claims made in the post. She said, “A recent erroneous online message...purporting to be a UNICEF communication appears to indicate that avoiding ice cream and other cold foods can help prevent the onset of the disease.” Professor Sally Bloomfield, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said heating your body or exposing yourself to the sun to make it inhospitable to the virus is ineffective.
2. Eating Garlic
There are numerous posts on Facebook claiming that eating garlic prevents infection. The World Health Organization acknowledged that garlic is “a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties." However, there’s no evidence suggesting that eating garlic can help protect people from COVID-19.
Generally speaking, we know that consuming fruits and vegetables and drinking water can help us stay healthy. But as of this writing, there is no evidence that specific food items will help combat the virus.
3. Drinking Water Every 15 Minutes
According to one post copied and pasted by multiple Facebook users, a “Japanese doctor” recommended drinking water every 15 minutes to get rid of any virus that might have entered your mouth. Professor Trudie Lang at the University of Oxford stated that there is “no biological mechanism” that supports the claim. Nevertheless, staying hydrated is generally considered good medical advice.
4. Drinkable Silver
A guest on US televangelist Jim Bakker’s show said that drinking colloidal silver—which refers to tiny particles of the metal suspended in liquid—can kill some strains of the virus within 12 hours. Proponents of colloidal silver said it can treat all sorts of health complications, act as an antiseptic, and aid the immune system.
US health authorities warned that there’s no evidence that colloidal silver is effective for any health malady, as it can cause side effects such as kidney damage, seizures, and argyria (a condition that turns your skin blue).
5. “Miracle Minerals”
Jordan Sather, a YouTuber, claimed that a “miracle mineral supplement” called MMS—which contains chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent—can eliminate coronavirus. In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned about the dangers of drinking MMS to one’s health. The FDA said that drinking this solution can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.
There might be other bogus health advice circulating on social media and the internet. It is recommended to check if the source is credible or use fact-checking sites to flag false stories. Let’s not trigger a false sense of panic by stopping ourselves from sharing fake news on social media or elsewhere.