You may have received it from a concerned family member or coworker, or seen it shared on social media–but that list of coronavirus “tips” that’s been making the rounds is officially a hoax.
“A widely distributed email about COVID-19 that is attributed to a ‘Stanford Hospital board member’ contains inaccurate information,” says Lisa Kim, a spokesperson for Stanford Health Care and the Stanford School of Medicine. “It did not come from Stanford Medicine.”
Tips include taking a few sips of water every 15 minutes to wash the virus down through your throat and into your stomach, and testing yourself by holding your breath for ten seconds.
Kim recommends members of the public is seeking legitimate information about the illness and prevention visit Stanford’s extensive coronavirus FAQ site or visit the website of the CDC, rather than rely on chain letters.
Coronavirus hoaxes have become a global problem. In the U.K., the National Health Service launched a new initiative this week to try to tamp down fake news about the disease. A spokesperson for the NHS told the Guardian that the program will be “fighting bad advice and misinformation about the virus in the media and online, working with Twitter to suspend a false account posing as a hospital and putting out inaccurate information about the number of coronavirus cases, and publicly condemning homeopaths promoting false treatments.”
Rumors of alternative remedies or preventions for the virus abound online. Debunked tips shared by those outside the medial profession have included consuming large amounts of garlic and swallowing tablets that contain chlorine dioxide. Televangelist Jim Bakker is being sued by the state of Missouri for hawking a product called Silver Solution as a coronavirus cure (a “natural health expert” on his show also claimed the solution worked for SARS and HIV).
While gulping down strange chemicals might be harmful, most of the bad coronavirus advice out there is more like the fake Stanford letter: inaccurate, but plausibly created by essentially well-meaning people who just aren’t qualified to dole out medical advice, not a coordinated attempt to exploit the outbreak panic for some type of gain.
“I haven’t seen what looks like a substantial covert campaign,” Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at social media intelligence firm Graphika told the Guardian. “It looks more like the sort of opportunistic disinfo that latches on to any developing story to troll perceived enemies, rather than a systematic and planned campaign.”
In China, however, the use of coronavirus misinformation as a tool of disruption may be more troubling. Buzzfeed reports that false reports have been intentionally spread on social media in an attempt to suggest that the government of Taiwan is misleading residents of that island about the number of cases and effectiveness of containment efforts, potentially using fear of coronavirus to foment instability.
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