#Stopthespread Applies to More than Just Coronavirus

As we conclude the third week of quarantine, rumors and untruths are proliferating as quickly as the virus itself.

hile we’re not all on the front lines of the global pandemic, COVID-19 has many of us feeling trapped, helpless and terrified. It’s also given rise to a perfect storm of extra downtime, questionable news reports and anxious vulnerability, turning social media — normally a minefield of false facts and misguided opinions as is it is — into a viral maelstrom of reposts. Some are harmless lists of fun digital experiences to keep kids entertained. There are are gym-free workout plans for the athletic, reading lists for the bookish and more recently, sewing patterns for face masks for personal use or donation. The effectiveness of such face coverings, however, is the subject of even more sharing and resposting than the patterns themselves, with some sources claiming any facial covering will help prevent infection and others insisting that only N95 and similar purpose-specific masks make a difference in transmission rates.

The only certainty during this unparalleled crisis is that no private citizens can be truly certain of anything they’re hearing through word of mouth. While we can trust that coronavirus is making its way through the US, everything from its severity to its mode of transmission has been speculated upon by the most educated public health officials all the way to the most outlandish of conspiracy theorists. Why not? This is America, where every opinion finds an audience. When the opinion is sensational enough, the audience multiplies faster than this virus has, regardless of the quality — or the truth — of the features informing it. Most of us agree that we all have a responsibility to support the #Stopthespread movement by staying home and observing social distancing protocols. But we also have a responsibility to prevent falsehoods and unfounded views from overtaking facts in the discourse surrounding this crisis.

Hatespeech Against China

Officials have been questioning China’s coronavirus statistics since the first reports were made of illness in Wuhan. Late last week, the president posted a series of confusing tweets that coincided with news suggesting that China had purposely obscured its numbers. Some interpreted this as a pointed attack on the United States tantamount to biological warfare, despite the fact that the entire rest of the world is also dealing with outbreak to varying degrees. As the severity of the pandemic increases, so does the need to make sense of — and place blame for — the catastophic overload to our healthcare system, the tremendous loss of life and the unprecedented disruption to our daily lives. Regardless of the origins of the disease, references to “the Chinese virus” have only served to generate fear and anger toward Asian Americans, as well as an uptick in hate crimes against them. This rhetoric does nothing to inform the public, and only serves to enflame and falsely validate prejudices.

Misinformation and Miracle Cures

In spite of public health advice, prominent figures including the president have touted several Covid-19 “miracle cures,” including the antimalaria drug hydrochloroquine, z-pack antibiotics and colloidal silver, the value of which is questionable even as a dietary supplement. Among private citizenship, these cures have been shared and reshared, along with a host of other advice of unknown or unreliable origins. The promotion of these false cures has already led to the death of at least one person, and is likely giving many more a false sense of security as to their risk of contracting or developing an acute case of coronavirus. While certain personalities are using their platforms to try to capitalize on the fear and lack of understanding surrounding COVID-19, fans and followers are promoting these false cures in spite of the lack of research and the absence of widespread endorsement from qualified health care professionals.

Negativite Predictions

The countrywide shutdown will have far-reaching implications for our economy and for our culture. Experts have floated models estimating that a return to “normal” operations may be as far off as eighteen to twenty four months, with gradual retraction of social distancing mandates in stages. But while we certainly won’t simply be reentering the world as we knew it when we’re able to venture out freely again, no one truly knows what awaits us on the other side of this crisis — and that has to be okay. News platforms bombard us with unemployment statistics, plunges in the market summary and suppositions about the irreversible changes society is undergoing at each milestone of this pandemic, but while the numbers may be accurate and the transformation may be tangible, neither can paint a full picture of the future of America. Any interpretation of these facts is an opinion, and again, the more gloom and doom it predicts, the more traction it will generate. Sharing media that promises more catastophe only adds to the panic and affliction of those whose mental health has already been shaken by the unprecedented events of the last few weeks, while quarantine has made it even harder for them to access the care and resources they desperately need.

Source Credibility

The effects of the information we highlight and circulate on social media reach farther than any news outlet ever could. That’s why it is so critically important to check the facts that are shared with us before we pass them on to our family and friends who may not be well-versed in verifying internet sources. Before you repost, check with accredited local and national news sources, government websites, or qualified health professionals to make sure that you’re not endorsing something potentially harmful to yourself or others. We have precious little to go on right now, but we’ll have even less if we allow our public discourse to be contaminated by prejudice and fraud. Do your part to stop the spread of misinformation by sharing responsibly.

Teacher, essayist, poet, mom. Tender Realist.