Illustration courtesy of Coronavirus_update via instagram.

Corona Virus Outbreak Triggers Wave of Viral Fake News

The outbreak of the coronavirus last month was quickly followed by a wave of fake news, mainly on social media. Some of the fake news even became viral. This seems to confirm a 2018 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology saying that false news was about 70 percent more likely to be retweeted by people than true news.

Images and videos are often taken out of context over WhatsApp and contribute to spread fear. For example, a picture of a man who fainted at Dubai Mall, surrounded by paramedics and accompanied by a caption saying that this was a new case of coronavirus, recently went viral. That was, of course, all untrue. A video also went viral even though it was wrongly linking the Coronavirus with some events at Dragon Mart, the Chinese mall in Dubai.

Some mainstream news outlets sometimes also contribute to this situation. The Washington Times published on January 24 a story about the Coronavirus being possibly manufactured in a virology laboratory in Wuhan without providing any evidence. The article was based on a single source — a former Israeli military intelligence. The newspaper didn’t even seek confirmation or comment from Chinese authorities or international health experts for such a serious accusation. No other mainstream media published that allegation. China said that the virus is believed to have originated from a market in Wuhan.

Some media outlets in Egypt, Syria  and elsewhere have also spread unverified information about the virus. They said the virus was manufactured by the United States to hurt the Chinese economy or by drug companies to boost their vaccine. These theories don’t really stand. There is no vaccine for the Coronavirus and the pandemic isn’t just hurting China but the economy of the entire world, including the U.S. and companies there like Apple whose Chinese factories are closed. 

The media and everyone else for that matter should not spread allegations without evidence. We should all try to rely on facts or news from accountable media organizations that verify their information before publishing them. It is important to note that official sources and international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization are among the credible sources one can use for news about the virus.

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