In the midst of a health crisis such as the one generated by the coronavirus 2019, those who have correct information on how to avoid contagion and how to take care of an eventual contamination are more protected.
But in the world of false news, it’s getting increasingly difficult to be well-informed.
Over the past three weeks, the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus alliance, which brings together more than 90 fact-checkers from 39 countries under the coordination of the International Fact-Checking Network, has published a total of 398 checks about the lethal virus. In this list, there are dozens of fact-checks about false ways to prevent and/or cure the coronavirus 2019.
The risk associated with these pieces of content is alarming. A brief analysis of the articles published by the fact-checkers since Jan. 24, when the collaborative work began, makes it clear that falsehoods about cures and means of prevention are still very popular on the internet.
On Jan. 28, for example, PolitiFact published a fact-check warning its audience that, contrary to what was being said on Twitter, drinking chlorine dioxide (or bleach) did not cure coronavirus. In reality, that was dangerous and could even “generate life-threatening side effects.”
Fourteen days later, the madness of suggesting that someone with coronavirus should drink bleach was still loose on social networks in the United States. FactCheck.org‘s team published a long article explaining that swallowing that liquid could cause “nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration.”
On the same day, however, The Daily Beast published a long report informing that the same falsehood was being spread on YouTube, by the hand of influencers. Can that be any more dangerous?
Vitamin C is also not able to prevent contamination by the new coronavirus. On Jan. 25, BoomLive in India alerted other fact-checkers about this falsehood being shared on Facebook.
Four days later, the same lie arrived in Brazil, proving popular in WhatsApp chains. Aos Fatos reported that the World Health Organization says on its website that taking vitamin C is not recommended as a way to prevent coronavirus. It is actually dangerous, just like smoking and taking antibiotics without a prescription.
In Italy and Taiwan, news about handwashing products went viral. Pagella Politica even had to contact the manufacturer of a hand gel and write an article explaining that the product, created in 2010, couldn’t be effective against the type of coronavirus that emerged in December.
Taiwan Fact-Check Center classified as false a post that tried to sell to people a product with “natural enzymes” to wash their hands, noses and vegetables. It was being sold as a way to avoid the lethal virus.
In the list of almost 400 fact-checks published so far by the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus alliance, “news” about possible cures are also very scary. And it is amazing how popular they can become.
Let’s be clear that Romania hasn’t developed a vaccine capable of killing the coronavirus in white citizens. Lead Stories has already debunked this. It is also false that JKUAT University, in Kenya, has managed to find the right coronavirus 2019 vaccine. PesaCheck verified it.
Posts that suggest garlic soup, raw garlic or water boiled with garlic can cure the new disease are super false. And it is terrifying to see how this information is circulating all over the world.
JTBC News in Korea caught this falsehood Jan. 30. On Feb. 7, Dubawa saw it in Ghana. Three days later, Vishvasnews published an article rating this information as false in India. And, since then, it has popped up in many other regions of the planet.
According to the WHO, “garlic is healthy food and has antimicrobial properties. But there is no evidence that eating it has protected someone against the new coronavirus.”
Follow #CoronaVirusFacts on Twitter to get the latest posts published by the alliance.
Read the reports published by the #CoronaVirusFacts collaboration project
Report # 1 (published Jan. 28): Coronavirus: Fact-checkers from 30 countries are fighting 3 waves of misinformation
Report # 2 (published Jan. 30): Photos and videos allegedly showing the coronavirus are now challenging fact-checkers
Report # 3 (published Feb. 3): Panic and fear might be limiting human reasoning and fueling hoaxes about coronavirus
Report # 4 (published Feb. 6): Google, Facebook and Twitter could do more to surface fact-checks about the coronavirus
* Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Coronavirus collaboration: The collaborative project, coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network, was launched Jan. 24 and will be active for as long as the lethal disease spreads worldwide. Fact-checkers are using a shared Google Sheet and a Slack channel to share content and communicate in different time zones. Follow #CoronaVirusFacts and #DatosCoronaVirus on social media for the latest updates.