The Social Media Epidemic

Written by Anna Divinagracia
Edited by Liv Licardo

Fake news, a current ‘trend and problem, is spreading faster than the coronavirus this quarantine season. In these dire times, some netizens and political figures have been taking advantage of the circumstances to spread fake news to the public.

From superfoods advertised as cures to ingesting disinfectants to deplete the effects of the virus, news that seem plausible – and some that hardly do – are taking over the internet. As a result, we are experiencing another, aside from the COVID-19 epidemic, that may be harmful as well: The Social Media Epidemic.

False Miracles and Cures

The demand for miracles is fueled during desperate times. Because of this, the ability of social media to turn gossip viral becomes a definite advantage for people who love the intrigue. Earlier on the onset of the enhanced community quarantine, talk of a COVID-19 cure was in circulation on social media. Multiple cures and treatments were presented to the public, including simple bananas and onions.

A video on bananas as a preventative measure for the coronavirus was circulating through Facebook and Messenger, claiming that research from Australia has proven that bananas improve the immune system and prevent the disease caused by the virus. To add a striking measure, the video contained the phrase “having a banana a day keeps the coronavirus away.” After the talk reached hundreds, – maybe thousands – the University of Queensland declared the claim false and discouraged the propagation of such fake news.

Another similar claim circulated around the same time, stating that placing peeled onions in a room will remove all viruses and bacteria – including the newly discovered coronavirus. According to the claim, a family in China did not contract the virus due to the absorption brought about by the onions. This was allegedly solidified by a doctor who examined the onions, announcing that it was full of inactive viruses and germs. According to the National Onion Association in the US, there has been no scientific evidence to support the claim.

Fear in Times of Crisis

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets and contact routes. A rumor was once again spread across the World Wide Web, stating that the virus is easily transmitted through the air. Fear rushed as the news spread, leaving medical professionals disappointed by the power of the internet.

At times, fake news goes out of hand that intervention is a must. A Cavite mayor was filed with criminal charges due to the spread of misinformation on a COVID-19 case. During the first few weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, a Facebook account under the name Maggie Bernal posted photos of persons under investigation at a hospital in Cavite and stated that one patient had died of the disease. This caused panic in Cavite City and anger due to the lack of transparency. The local government and police debunked these claims afterwards and discovered that the account was a troll account created by the Cavite mayor.

The most ludicrous news yet could be that 5G internet allows the spread of the coronavirus. How that may even remotely occur, no one knows. Yet, some people believed and continue to believe the lie.

Many conspiracy theorists have also been deeming China guilty as news breaks out that the virus was created in a Wuhan lab. Rare footage showing Chinese scientists working on the virus have leaked, and Chinese scientists repeatedly deny the link to the coronavirus outbreak. Racist remarks have spiked online and offline, with the Chinese and other Asians being blamed for the outbreak.

Downplaying the Virus
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Image from The University of Melbourne,

Multiple personalities, some with good intentions, have only exacerbated the problem and have been using their influence to spread unverified information to their followers.

Actors and actresses in the Philippines have downplayed the virus, saying that the virus “is here to help us” and is the “universe’s way of moving forward.” Filipinos on Twitter and Instagram have responded with backlash and anger about these announcements. Some have cited how smallpox, an epidemic eradicated in 1980, was similarly downplayed and resulted in millions of deaths worldwide.

President Donald Trump of the United States is once again taking center-stage as he announces that the coronavirus is “nothing to be worried about.” Virus experts are enraged at the possible repercussions of this statement, seeing that Americans are currently rallying to revoke the quarantine and proceed with normal living. The death cases of the United States are rapidly rising, with the curve not flattening any time soon.

The Problem

Why are we so susceptible to disinformation? In times of crisis, a public in panic and fear is surely a gullible one. The public will certainly listen to any account they can get their hands on – fact-checked or not. 

Additionally, the only way of connecting to one another is through the World Wide Web. The current situation that puts us in isolation gives us a problem that we have never faced. Man is a social animal, according to the ancients. Due to our disconnection, the daily news delivered by social media is a gateway to the “new normal,” a social reality that man is sadly expected to put up with. In the midst of isolation, interaction through social media is man’s only release.

Creating the illusion of a vaccine and a miracle provides the desperate with another shot at life. Given such information, people who are living in fear can proceed with better conditions than before and can even practice drinking garlic water at home. They live in the illusion of safety and may not expect to contract the virus. Although the illusion presents good intentions, it is an illusion nonetheless. Yet, man still devours it with pleasure.

Downplaying the virus gives us a reason to get out and continue on living normally. Hearing famous personalities also downplaying the virus solidifies that the disease brought about by the virus is simply like any other disease: it can be easily cured, just like the flu. The consumers of such information risk relaying the information to family members and friends, some of which could be more susceptible to the virus than others.

Our isolation from family and friends during these times makes us more likely to accept any information we can get, just because we can share and talk about anything to make us feel alive.

The Solution?

To date, there is no cure for the coronavirus. To date, the worldwide curve is not flattening. To date, the death rate is rising, and we are far from fine. We have no way of possibly eradicating the virus so far, but we all know how to prevent the spread of the epidemic. Here are some guidelines from the World Health Organization so as to not contract the virus:

  • Stay at home as much as you can.
  • Keep a safe distance as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Cover when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dab!
  • Sick? Call ahead!

As for the propagation of disinformation, fact-check everything you see on social media. The Internet is a place where anyone can deliver news, and, in times such as these, the news spreads fast like the virus. We live in a time where fake news can kill you and facts can save your life. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to check for fake news:

  • Does it seem to be true? Does any other account verify this article?
  • Do the facts support this, or do I just believe it because it sounds good?
  • Who shared this? Is it someone I trust, or does this person have a record of sharing fake news?

Governments and social media must be more vigilant about the information that is communicated. We must be just as vigilant. Stay at home and read before you share!

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