Virus-Induced Viral Fantasies: Fake News Spreading like Corona

Flattening the curve of the epidemic infecting our stir-crazed algorithms

On about day five of my personal quarantine, as I was tapping through my Instagram Stories, reclined on my couch, eyes glazed over, casually passing by people “f***ing with the algorithm” and posting their “nth day quarantine selfie,” I stopped at a photo of two elephants laying on their sides in a grove; a beacon of light through the murky endless fog of “social distancing.” The caption read: “Elephants break into a village in Yunan [sic] Province looking for food. They ended up drinking 30 kg of corn wine and got so drunk they fell asleep in a nearby tea garden.”

With a smirk and small chuckle to myself, the image materialized into a dreamy Ghibli-esque fantasy of elephants frolicking in a human-free quarantine zone without a care in the world, getting turnt in the open air on some corn wine. My imagination, even if only for a moment, was invited to run wild with a joyous and charming image of hope.

This post was, to my dismay, a farce, National Geographic reports –– one likely fueled by viral aims to feed humanity’s current desire for any good news at all whatsoever. I have to admit, its appearance on my feed did tickle my heartstrings, though as the article notes, spreading this sort of content can be socially and emotionally harmful in the long run, creating a deeper sense of distrust in the Internet that we really don’t need right now during times of crisis.

The lies don’t end with elephants, either. Not only does coronavirus have us begging for good news, it also has us ready to cough out any information, hopeful or otherwise, into the crowded subway train of social media. Politico reports nefarious tips like avoiding Ibuprofen, drinking bleach, and the announcement of imminent country-wide lockdown.

In an attempt to quell the dispersion of misinformation on precautions against COVID-19, Facebook says it has taken measures to “tackle viral messages” primarily being shared via WhatsApp, and is actively encouraging people to fact-check the information they are passing on to other unknown carriers.

And while the phenomena of “fake news,” is not news at all, now is the time we must be especially careful about how it is being consumed and processed globally online. Our wounded collective unconscious is spreading misinformation like the plague...or, ya know, the novel coronavirus. Perhaps a simple google search could be as effective in flattening the curve as washing your hands.

Read more on National Geographic.