As the Coronavirus death toll rises, so does fear and paranoia. On Friday, health authorities in China reported 636 deaths, and 31,161 confirmed cases related to the virus. At present, India has three confirmed cases of infected people and no deaths. However, what seems to be spreading faster than the virus is fake news on social media.
Social media is a double-edged sword. While on one hand, it's a powerful tool to spread information and educate the masses, on the other hand, it is equally easy for misinformation to spread like wildfire. Be it about the home remedies that you can indulge in or the hot water therapy to keep the virus at bay, there is no way you can know if you're infected without a coronavirus disease self-assessment scan. According to a recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fake news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories. This fact has been vindicated by the number of conspiracy theories and 'miraculous' cures presently doing the rounds on the internet.
We did a deep delve into the dark corners of the interweb and these are the craziest theories out there.
This is probably the most dangerous kind of fake news that's been spreading about the virus. Several 'health advisories' have been doing the rounds on social media channels like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
One message to go viral on WhatsApp advised users to "keep your throat moist", avoid spicy food and "load up on vitamin C" in order to prevent the disease. Medical professionals have debunked these myths, and at present, there is no cure for the virus.
One of the most shocking pieces of misinformation was released by India's Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). It claimed that using the homoeopathy drug Arsenicum album 30 as a ‘prophylactic medicine’ would prevent infection. However, experts have said that natural medicines have not been proven to have any effect on the disease. This information was tweeted by the official handle of the Press Information Bureau and has yet to be taken down.
Ever since news of the virus broke out, there have been plenty of speculations about the origins of the virus.
One particular theory that went viral was that it originated from bats. Soon, a video of a woman eating bat soup started doing the rounds, leading to adverse reactions from people, most of them racist, blaming Chinese eating habits for the outbreak. In the video, you can see a lady holding up a cooked bat, and then admitting that it tastes "like chicken meat".
However, turns out that neither was the video shot in China nor was the lady in the video Chinese. The original video was actually shot all the way back in 2016, and the woman is a popular blogger and travel show host, Mengyun Wang, tasting some local food during a trip to Palau, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
Fact check: The coronavirus did NOT originate from bats, but is believed to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan.
One major conspiracy theory that plenty of people have bought into is that the Coronavirus was actually developed as a biological weapon in a laboratory in Wuhan, but was accidentally leaked.
The Washington Post published an article quoting a former Israeli military intelligence officer claiming the same, and the article has been widely shared on the internet. However, it is important to note that no evidence was provided for the claim in the article. In fact, the Israeli source was quoted saying that "so far there isn't evidence or indication" to suggest there was a leak.
In response, China has slammed the claims made by The Washington Post and stated that its researchers are busy making vaccines to contain the epidemic.
Another claim that conspiracy theorists have been chasing is that 'Chinese spies' in Canada who had links to a lab in Wuhan were responsible for the leak in the virus. The claim came after a researcher at Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory was suspended.
According to a report by a Canadian broadcaster CBC last year, virologist Dr Xiangguo Qiu, her husband and some of her students from China were removed from the Canadian lab following a possible "policy breach". Other reports claimed that Dr Qiu had visited the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences twice a year for two years.
On January 25, a Twitter user claimed without evidence that Dr Qiu and her husband were a "spy team", had sent "pathogens to the Wuhan facility", and that her husband "specialised in coronavirus research". The tweet received over 12,000 retweets and 13,000 likes.
However, CBC later reported that all of these claims were 'baseless'.
A husband and wife Chinese spy team were recently removed from a Level 4 Infectious Disease facility in Canada for sending pathogens to the Wuhan facility. The husband specialized in coronavirus research. #coronaviruschina #CoronaOutbreak https://t.co/f2MpCZgkHX— 😷Kyle Bass😷 (@Jkylebass) January 25, 2020
While the news of the rising mortality rate owing to this virus is worrisome, we urge people to do a thorough fact-check before believing what they read on the internet. And no matter what you read--always think before you share anything that's 'going viral'. False information can cause unnecessary panic and lead to dire consequences.
Featured Image: Shutterstock
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