Fear helps spread fake news about Coronavirus via WhatsApp
Americas, Europe

Fear helps spread fake news about Coronavirus via WhatsApp

At a time when most of us are looking for updates and useful information on the new coronavirus, countless deceptive messages arrive on our smartphone, sometimes containing false information, which explain how to protect yourself from an infection, recognize the symptoms of the disease from COVID-19 and miraculous therapies to respond if you have the virus. State and health officials from several countries have been forced to respond to information disseminated via WhatsApp about things like the efficacy of ibuprofen, the planned army measures and false home visits. Chain mail has similarly fuelled uncertainty, often spreading faster than the virus itself.

It seems that the ‘fake news’ were driven by the increased demand for information from people, addressing emotions and fears and being structured in such a way as not to appear unrealistic. Like the woman’s voice: “I’m Elisabeth, Poldi’s mother”, she seemed genuinely worried. A friend of hers, who was a doctor at the university hospital in Vienna, had called her with a warning, she said in German. The clinic noted that most patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic, had taken the painkiller ibuprofen before being hospitalized. Tests conducted by the university laboratory, he added, found “strong evidence that ibuprofen accelerates the multiplication of the virus.” This is just an example of the many chains launched on WhatsApp and obviously the University rushed to declare that it was all false.

Fear helps spread fake news. We have seen it these days also in Italy and other countries facing the coronavirus emergency. More than one circulated on the Coronavirus: from the discount on funerals to the danger of pets, from the passage of helicopters to spray disinfectant to the creation of medicines and treatments already available. So many fake news has gone around that the European Court of Auditors (Eca) has opened an investigation into the resilience of the measures taken by the EU with the “EU Action plan against disinformation” to stem the spread of fake news which can cause serious public harm. In these cases, it is important not to forward the messages unless you are absolutely sure that the information is reliable and truthful. Sensational news or real treatment will be announced by the press, by serious publishers, as well as by local or international competent authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

If a message seems suspicious, experts suggest a quick web search to see if known and reliable sources of information have also reported the same problem. If you are reading something dramatic on WhatsApp, check and if you find it to be false information, advise the person who sent it to you. Coronavirus is a serious matter, knowing it is the first step to fight it.

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