By Unnat Agrawal
With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, more and more people are forced to spending the days indoors, and that has got them hooked to the internet. But what may prove to be an even bigger threat than the pandemic itself is an infodemic; infecting us with misinformation and unsubstantiated ‘theories’ without us even realizing.
What’s wrong with the internet?
Well, a lot of things are wrong with the internet but the pressing issue right now is the rapid, almost corona-like spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories regarding…. Corona.
So, all of us know that the current pandemic has been merciless in regards to who it infects and where it spreads. It has reached almost every country, every landmass on this planet, and has directly affected millions. In such a situation of panic and commotion, people on the internet can easily be fed misinformation and unverified knowledge which can prove to be almost as dangerous as the cause of the panic. When Donald Trump in a press conference openly wondered the effect of disinfectant on the virus and the possibility of curing it by injecting disinfectant, a Kansas Poison Control Centres in the USA saw a spike of 40% in cases involving disinfectant indigestion. This demonstrates all that’s wrong with the internet and the people using it. It has provided the public with a platform to discuss and deliberate if only the people had been wise enough to use it for deliberation instead of jumping to conclusions. So with a vast majority of the world population sitting idle at home, such unfounded claims have seen a rapid rise and most of them are regarding the coronavirus.
An infodemic is a widespread misinformation or too much information regarding a subject that leads to difficulties in finding a solution. What we are witnessing right now is a huge chunk of the population infected with the virus and the rest infected with misinformation. There are a lot of theories going around the internet regarding the origin and spread of the coronavirus and the prominent ones are listed below; not to promote or support these but to spread the word around how unfounded these are.
- Wuhan Lab Leak-
According to numerous media outlets and websites, the coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, contradicting claims from China that it spread from an animal in the Wuhan meat market. This theory suggests that the virus was being studied in the lab in the institute and due to negligent behaviour, leaked into the city of Wuhan through a scientist in the lab. This theory has been openly sold by the President of the United States, stating that he firmly believes in the role of China in the spread, intentional or not. Although numerous people have suggested the same, there is no concrete proof regarding the same. Based on some ‘very conclusive’ report, Donald Trump halted all of the USA’s funding to the World Health Organisation. Not the right move to be freezing the funding to a global health organisation in the middle of a pandemic.
- Biowarfare from China-
The Washington Times in January claimed that the coronavirus might have intentionally be released from a lab in China which was a part of the biowarfare program of China’s. It suggested that the virus might have been a bioweapon that China unleashed onto the world. But after numerous researchers claimed that it was practically impossible for the virus to be man-made and that it most probably transmitted from some animal to humans, the paper had to take back the claim.
- The USA made the virus and the US Army brought it to Wuhan-
Zhao Lijian; a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has claimed that the United States of America created and transmitted the virus into Wuhan, sharing an article written by Larry Romanoff along in a social media post. Although the post has been deleted, the article claimed some shocking things. According to the article, the virus was created in the germ laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland (which coincidently shut down last year due to a lack of adequate preventive measures regarding a ‘pathogen leak’). Since the article released, investigations into the position of Larry Romanoff has suggested that his title of ‘visiting professor’ in Shanghai’s Fudan University could not be verified, leading to questions over the article’s credibility. Regardless, the majority of the Chinese population including their embassies choose to believe this piece of information.
- 5G causes coronavirus-
Popular in many factions of the society, this theory suggests that 5G networks produce waves unhealthy for the human body and decreases the immunity of the body. Another version of it suggests that the corporates sitting at the top of the chain plan a release of 5G across the globe in these times of desperation so that they could have better access to user data and compromise privacy.
Apart from these popular theories, many others are doing the rounds on the internet as well as the media. There have been allegations that Bill Gates is earning a huge amount of money in the race for the cure of the virus. Also, many have straight-up declined the existence of the virus and as seen in the US, hordes of such people have protested by congregating in public places and flouting the norms of social distancing. Some theories suggest that the governments already have a cure for the coronavirus but are unwilling to release it to the public to control population growth.
With no concrete evidence being released to the public to build their opinions upon, it is very easy to get swayed by these plausible looking theories in the media. What doesn’t help the fight against misinformation is the broadcasting of such theories by mainstream media platforms which the public trusts for their daily news? This politics regarding the virus has hit the scientist community the worst. Countries blaming each other will lead to complications in future scientific collaborations amongst nations and ultimately hinder the scientific growth that humans as a race would have achieved. With time running out, a cure for the virus is the number one necessity and with such politics revolving around the virus hindering medical advancements as well, and collaborative work in the same feels like a distant dream. Which of these is true might always remain a mystery, but what the human race needs right now is collaborative work towards a cure for the virus and not an opinion or theory from the public.
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