Social media have given a vast array of info across the globe at unprecedented speeds, fueling panic and misinformation.
When we ask ourselves, how serious is the COVID-19 (Coronavirus?) What is the likelihood of infection if we were to merge with a small group of infected individuals? Is this something to be concerned about or will it be forgotten like all the other epidemics in the past?
While we all try to avoid an all-out panic breaking loose, it is important to know the truth. Yet this truth nowadays, with so much misinformation, can be damaging to society and the victims of this virus.
Our story starts out in the city of Wuhan, in the province of Hubei.
Wuhan is the largest city in Central China, with a population of over 11 million people. The city, on January 23, shut down transport links and restricted access into and out of the city. Following Wuhan’s lockdown, the city of Huanggang was also placed in quarantine, and the city of Ezhou closed its train stations.
The announcement came after China had confirmed the number of new cases inside the country had declined for two days in a row. While it is difficult to estimate the entirety of the affection, we do have several reports of people infected outside of Mainland China.
All but two deaths. Now officially named COVID-19, the only other fatalities have been in the Philippines and Hong Kong. At least that is what reports stated until late January form the World Health Organization.
As of Tuesday, the 4th of February 2020, there were two more clusters of virus cases outside of China. One was reported to be on a cruise ship docked off the coast of Japan. And later a handful of cases in southern England. At least 174 people from the cruise have been diagnosed with the disease, and hundreds more were being tested.
The fight against the novel coronavirus took a turn for the worse on Wednesday night, 5th of February 2020, according to CBS News. Chinese health officials in the Hubei province reported 242 new deaths and 14,840 new cases of the flu-like virus. Despite the curfew, more cases and death-toll can be observed on Worldometer.com.
Fake Content online
To address fake news in the face of panic, the WHO tried partnering with Twitter, Facebook, Tencent, and TikTok to clamp down on misinformation. It recently launched a ‘Google SOS‘ alert to push WHO information to the top of people’s search results for coronavirus-related queries. According to www.Technologyreview.com, the WHO has also been working with Facebook to target specific populations and demographics with ads that provide important health information.
The data below can clear some ambiguity and negative thoughts related to the scale of the affection outside of China.
Unfortunately, despite curbing the contamination, a lot of negative or fake content has overwhelmed the coordinated efforts to clear out the hate and panic. Recently, Racist memes and slurs have proliferated on TikTok and Facebook. According to The Daily Beast, some teens have even gone about faking a coronavirus diagnosis to earn themselves more social-media clout.
The sad side of this story is also visible in Chinese social media. New waves of discrimination have been reported against the people of Wuhan and the Hubei province. But as much as social media has perpetuated disinformation, there are some positives with verified information as well. Journalists around the world have used Chinese social media to gain a more accurate picture of the situation and gathered and archived here: (available only in Mandarin)
So far the danger still resides in and nearby the regions of Wuhan. However, precautions and the curfew will gradually alleviate the severity of this problem. We can only hope for the best.