Misinformation, hatred spreading in wake of COVID-19 crisis
Online hatred is going viral in what the UN calls a ‘dangerous epidemic of misinformation’ as a direct result of fear around COVID-19 pandemic, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Mr Guterres described the impact of the pandemic as “the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War”, leaving millions scared, and seeking clear advice on how best to protect themselves and their families.
While it is a time for science and solidarity, a “global ‘misinfo-demic’ is spreading”, he said in a statement.
“Harmful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating”, Mr Guterres said.
“Falsehoods are filling the airwaves. Wild conspiracy theories are infecting the Internet. Hatred is going viral, stigmatizing and vilifying people and groups,” he said.
Urging the world to unite against the COVID-19 crisis, he prescribed a “vaccine” of trust.
He urged people to trust in science and he also praised journalists and others who are fact-checking the mountain of misleading stories and social media posts.
And he called on the tech giants to do more to stop the spread of misinformation.
“Social media companies must do more to root out hate and harmful assertions about COVID-19”, Mr Guterres said.
He also called for trust in institutions that are grounded in responsive, responsible, evidence-based governance and leadership.
And he said people needed trust in each other, with “mutual respect and human rights as our compass” to navigate this crisis.
“Together, let’s reject the lies and nonsense out there”, the UN chief said.
Mr Guterres announced a new UN Communications Response initiative “to flood the Internet with facts and science”, while countering the growing scourge of misinformation, which he maintained is “a poison that is putting even more lives at risk”.
Even before the pandemic officially began, UNESCO issued warnings over some of the orchestrated misinformation campaigns designed to erode fact-based journalism.
UNESCO Director for Policies and Strategies Guy Berger said there was barely an area left untouched by disinformation in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from the origin of the coronavirus, through to unproven prevention and cures, and encompassing responses by governments, companies, celebrities and others.
And the scale of the problem has prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to add a ‘myth busters’ section to its online coronavirus advice pages.
Among the claims it refutes are that drinking potent alcoholic drinks, exposure to high temperatures – or conversely, cold weather – can kill the virus.
“With common cause for common sense and facts, we can defeat COVID-19, and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world”, Mr Guterres said.
Ten myths about the COVID-19 virus
Young people are not susceptible to this coronavirus.
People of all ages can be infected. Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill. But young people can carry — and spread — the virus, even if they don’t show symptoms.
The coronavirus can’t survive airborne or on surfaces.
Researchers have found that droplets carrying the virus can travel through the air and stay suspended for about half an hour. They can also settle on surfaces, where the virus can last longer — up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on plastic and steel. The risk of getting infected from touching these materials, however, remains low because the virus’ ability to infect decreases rapidly over time.
Hot weather makes the virus disappear.
“You can catch COVID-19, no matter how sunny or hot the weather is,” according to the World Health Organization. So far, evidence shows the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted anywhere, and places with hot and humid weather have reported cases. Regardless of climate, take protective measures if you live in, or travel to, an area where the virus is present.
Taking a hot bath prevents you from getting infected with the virus.
The temperature of your bath doesn’t change your normal body temperature and won’t affect whether you catch this virus. But washing your hands frequently is a great way to keep from getting sick, because it will eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur if you then touch your eyes, mouth or nose.
Face masks don’t work to prevent infection.
A face mask isn’t guaranteed to keep you from getting sick, but the protection is better than nothing. A mask can help capture some droplets that carry the virus. And it’s important to note that wearing a mask isn’t just about protecting yourself; it can also help keep you from passing viruses to others.
This coronavirus seems to be spread even by people who aren’t showing symptoms. As of Friday morning, April 3, the White House coronavirus task force was formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings of some kind — even T-shirts or bandannas — when going outside or to places like grocery stores or pharmacies.
Covering your body with alcohol or chlorine kills the virus.
Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over yourself won’t kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes, such as those in your eyes and mouth. Both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used according to appropriate recommendations.
Rinsing your nose with saline prevents infection.
Some people are familiar with this tactic because there is limited evidence that regularly rinsing your nose with saline can help you recover more quickly from the common cold. However, rinsing your nose doesn’t prevent respiratory infections such as the virus that causes COVID-19.
Eating garlic protects you against the new coronavirus.
There’s no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people. It’s a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties, but that’s unrelated to COVID-19.
Hand dryers effectively kill the coronavirus.
Hand dryers aren’t effective at eliminating the virus. If you use a hand dryer and touch your face afterward, you could get infected. You can use a warm air dryer or paper towel to dry your hands after thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, but it’s the washing that eliminates the virus, not the dryer.
Taking ibuprofen might worsen COVID-19 symptoms.
There’s no evidence to support this suggestion, according to the World Health Organization and other leading agencies.
Sources: World Health Organisation, The New York Times, Associated Press.