COVID-19: when hoaxes about a virus make the impact worse

hoaxes virus
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Several news sites are compiling lists of hoaxes about the COVID-19 virus. Many are – let’s face it – amusing. Many create anxiety. Also amusing are the reactions to some of the hoaxes.

Among the favourites in this category must be the one that suggests that you should use a hairdryer to blow hot air up your nose and into your throat to stop the virus. This was made worse (or better) by the County Commissioner who repeated it at a public meeting in the US. It came, he said, from ‘reliable sources’.

Some hoaxes linger. For quite a while, we were convinced that non-specific anti-inflammatory drugs, like Nurofen, made things worse. They do not. And yet the WHO had to manage this and other hoaxes, wasting precious resources.

Some hoaxes are just so ‘out there’ that you almost want to hit the ‘share’ button and see what happens. One such is the news that Russia had released 500 lions onto the streets to keep people inside. Wait, maybe that’s …

Others include helicopters disinfecting the Netherlands (actually not a bad idea lol), time lapsed photos of ‘vast fires in Wuhan Province – what could they possibly be’?

More insidious are the ones that make you angry. The sort of thing where, if we were allowed to form a physical mob, we might well hunt these people down and beat them mercilessly with colloidal silver suspension (also not a cure).

There are the ones such as ‘experts’ going door to door with ‘testing kits’ which are fake but which cost you $170.

Another, and this one makes you grind your teeth quite a lot, is the email that contains a virus and is not one of the many hoaxes. This purports to provide medical advice about the virus. It is aimed at Italians, and apparently from the Government. You open the email, you click on the document and we don’t need to draw a picture of what happens next.

When you are scared, you open things you wouldn’t normally open.

Unbelievably, ‘elite’ hackers have been trying to infiltrate the systems of the WHO itself to try and get hold of email addresses of senior executives, the better to spread misinformation, malice and mayhem.

Hackers seem to be bored, too. Websites and email addresses are being spoofed and hacked on an hourly basis.

The creators of viruses are always going to be ahead and their sophistication increases on a daily basis.

Creators of hoaxes are almost as bad. While some are amusing, most are not. Most have a vicious motive and most play to the human need to believe news, not discard it. We have been programmed to do this from an early age.

Yet this, too, might be changing. The virus and its attendant hoaxes is changing the way we view the world and how we interact with it. And it is accelerating a change that we were already observing. Children are now testing smart home devices, challenging them to see if the information they produce is good information, not fake news.

We might live in challenging times for a while but we will emerge a little more cynical and hopefully a little better able to spot hoaxes and defend ourselves against viruses – both physical and electronic.

And even more hopefully we will emerge with most of our sense of humour still intact.

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