July 2, 2020

People who have recently tried to resume their lives by leaving home and going to shops and restaurants have probably stopped at some temperature check control system. Usually, someone with an infrared thermometer in hand points the machine-looking tool to the client’s forehead and finds out if the person is running a fever. This device, however, is the new victim of COVID-19 falsehoods.

On May 21, fact-checkers from Delfi, in Lithuania, added to the CoronaVirusFacts database the first article about this issue. Since then, at least five have popped up — especially in Latin America.

In Delfi’s article, fact-checkers explain that they detected a bunch of Facebook posts in Lithuania falsely claiming that infrared thermometers were dangerous because they could harm the so-called third eye.

In some traditions, such as Hinduism, the third eye is said to be located slightly above the junction of the eyebrows and is related to the chakra (one’s energy). In Taoism and in many traditional Chinese religions, the “third eye practice” consists of focusing attention on this point between the eyebrows, with the eyes closed, to reach a more advanced level of meditation.

Lithuanian fact-checkers said that there is no scientific evidence that infrared thermometers can have an impact on that.

In a few days, however, the falsehood crossed the planet and landed in Latin America, with tons of false WhatsApp chains and YouTube videos claiming that infrared thermometers were bad — for many other different reasons.

On June 24, Animal Político, in Mexico, published an article with a clear headline: “Infrared thermometers do not harm your retinas.” It added: These devices “work with infrared waves that are similar to the ones used by television remote controls.”

By that time, Mexicans were afraid to be blinded by infrared thermometers and panic spread on social media.

Verificado, also from Mexico, acted against that hoax, too, and added two important points of view to its fact-check. It emphasized that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in favor of the thermometer and published what Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, the undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion of Mexico, had said in a press conference, reinforcing that the use of infrared thermometers has been studied for a long time, in many countries, and is safe.

Misinformation, however, travels fast and, on June 26, it had already reached Argentina.

Fact-checkers from Chequeado rated false a video that stated infrared thermometers were capable of damaging neurons. Oh yes! Please notice how the danger attached to this simple pharmaceutical device grows every time a falsehood is debunked.

In their article, Argentinian fact-checkers explain that infrared thermometers do not emit radiation similar to X-rays and, therefore, do not affect the nervous system. The population shouldn’t avoid it or reject it.

What will be the next hoax? Fact-checkers wonder — while noticing that the fight against this new falsehood is reminiscent of the one related to facial masks causing hypoxia.

They are both unfounded, global and, moreover, offer people false ammunition to reject simple and effective prevention methods. So let’s be clear here: Infrared thermometers won’t blind you, won’t damage your neurons nor affect your meditation.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

* Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

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