We have all received them, either thru an email, WhatsApp message, Messenger, Twitter, or any other way, fake new messages are an everyday thing. And all of us have once clicked “forward” as soon as we finish reading it, with the best of intentions, whether it’s protecting the health of our friends and loved ones by sharing the latest warning, trying to help other people through prayer, and so on.
Hoaxes or fake news take all kinds of shapes: from infallible medical advice (which are actually inventions without any scientific basis) to false or very old news (such as the chain that asks to pray for Christians who are going to be executed tomorrow in a certain country, and it turns out that is a 5 years old message).
These falsehoods are sometimes innocuous beyond making us waste a little time, but sometimes they can be really dangerous. In my country, for instance, as soon as the health emergency of COVID-19 began, the news went viral that the coronavirus would die at 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 F). I could not believe my eyes or the lack of judgment of people who did not stop for a second to think that the human body stays around 37 degrees Celsius (100F), if this news were true, there would be no pandemic, the virus would die as soon as it enters our bodies. However, a few days after this information was viral in WhatsApp, a local television reporter interviewed a man on a boardwalk by the beach, full of people pleasantly walking in the sun, and the reason given by this man was that it was totally safe, because the heat of the sun would kill the virus.
So how can we avoid becoming part of the problem? It is quite simple. Upon receiving any such message, let’s take a couple of minutes to analyze it. What is its origin? Does it quote any reliable source? If it has the author’s name, we can google it. Better yet, let’s take keywords from the message and google it, if it has been around for a few days, chances are that we will find information that it is false, since there are specialized websites that expose this kind of fake viral news. A concrete example, a few days ago I received a message that eating foods with high alkaline content protected the body against covid-19. I wrote in Google search the words: food, alkaline, coronavirus. Immediately I got result after result, all articles explaining in a scientific way, that eating alkaline food will not have that effect. It is important to select just a few keywords from the text you received, to get good results in Google search.
If we don’t find anything about it, before forwarding, stop and think: if what I am about to forward is not true, is there any danger if the person who receives it acts accordingly? Can what I am about to share cause fear, anxiety or unnecessary worry? (especially when the person who receives it, can do nothing about it, as in the case of conspiracy theories). And finally, is it really necessary for me to resend this, since I couldn’t check whether it’s true or not?
To finish this post, a bonus: the World Health Organization has published a list of false news about covid-19.