Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are full of misinformation about the Wuhan coronavirus.
I have heard about the virus killing six people in South Africa, the virus being man-made to be used as a weapon of war by the Chinese against America and the virus being spread from eating bat soup.
I know a couple who were cancelling their holiday in Italy because of what they read online and what people were saying. They eventually spoke to a doctor and are now packing and planning that holiday with much excitement.
In the past week, we have had a flurry of misinformation linked to the Coronavirus on different social platforms. One message I received on WhatsApp after Nigeria confirmed its first case, stated that local flights, hotels and schools might have been contaminated in Nigeria.
TikTok has been flooded with memes about the virus, with some users pretending to be infected. People are afraid of going to supermarkets and touching the trolleys or going on public transport.
Despite what you might have heard…
Despite what you might’ve heard, you cannot get the virus from an imported package, garlic and sesame oil will not help treat it, neither will bathing in bleach! Business Insider published what would have been a hilarious list of how one can contract the virus and how to avoid it, but we cannot laugh when there is so much misinformation being shared across the globe.
Misinformation is hardly a new phenomenon but what is certain is that misinformation spreads like wildfire when people are afraid.
We saw it with the Ebola outbreak and Xenophobia attacks and now with coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken steps to ensure the epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives in central China does not spark a dangerous social media “infodemic” fuelled by false information.
To date, the respiratory illness has claimed 3 119 lives [as of 3 March 2020], according to WHO, and there there are more than 90 993 confirmed cases. Of those China reported 80 152 cases, with the rest in other parts of the world.
I love social media and how it brings people together but I am also cognizant of how social media has become a potential conduit for dangerous misinformation.
Social media has allowed people to broadcast direct, first-person accounts of events without going through a news organisation. I have followed a couple living in China as they experience life quarantined and then having to choose to stay or leave because they are not from the same country. It’s given me a completely different view of what people are going through in China.
As with everything, there are pros and cons to the social aspect of news. Sharing is so easy that people ignore the factual accuracy of what they share. It’s not unusual for people to share something on their social profiles and then later find out a story they shared was fake.
While social media enables us to hear about current events while they’re happening, the immediacy, and our expectation of it, leads to stories being reported before we know all the facts.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Facebook has brought on third parties to fact-check content and has promised to remove potentially dangerous information.
Facebook users scrolling through their news feeds are also met with messages directing them to visit government websites for information on the virus.
All the information we need
WHO has launched a TikTok account as part of its efforts to get accurate information to people. TikTok also links users who search for virus-related content to the WHO website.
If you search on Twitter, you will get a message that says, ‘Know the facts’ and it directs users to visit the CDC’s website. Hashtags that are used to spread disinformation on Instagram are being blocked.
We now have all the information we need at the touch of an app. The internet is full of tricksters and blatant liars who rely on people’s basic trust to amplify their message. Don’t be caught in the coronavirus infodemic.
Charis Apelgren-Coleman is the market engagement manager at Kagiso Media Radio. She has worked with small and large local organisations as well as large multinational organisations, while managing specialist content teams.
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