Mass-misinformation

From cure-alls to phishing scams, it’s more important than ever
to know where your information is coming from
By Layla Dart 

COVID-19 HAS taken the world and the media by storm, and it’s a topic that’s difficult to avoid on social media. But with something so novel, it’s not a surprise that some information out there isn’t 100 per cent accurate. Whether we’re talking about small misstatements of facts or outright outrageous claims, we have to be careful about the information we’re spreading.

“Knowledge about COVID-19 is incomplete, which makes it harder to say with certainty whether information is accurate or not,” MacEwan University psychology professor Nancy Digdon says. “I have my doctorate and expertise in health psychology, but this does not mean I am qualified to make pronouncements about the virus.

“I would be skeptical of anyone making pronouncements who does not have relevant expertise, such as a doctorate in public health, the scientific study of viruses, or the medical treatment of infectious diseases.”

What Digdon is saying is that it’s crucial to understand who is making claims about COVID-19. If you’re receiving advice from a family doctor, or reading material from Digdon’s suggested sources, you can trust the information is well informed. However, if there are claims of a “cure,” praise for alternative treatments, or other news that seems too good to be true, you might want to see where that information is coming from. 

A fairly outrageous but excellent example of misinformation comes from everyone’s favourite right-wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. On his online radio show, InfoWars, Jones peddled a toothpaste he claimed, “kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.” 

Obviously, a respiratory virus such as COVID-19 cannot be cured by toothpaste, but it hasn’t stopped Jones from selling it. This product contains colloidal silver (or nanosilver, as it’s also known), which is nanoscale silver products suspended in liquid. Despite Jones’s claims (and those of disgraced televangelist Jim Baaker), nanosilver is not approved or accepted as an antiviral cure-all – in fact, it has the potential to cause argyria, which permanently tints the skin blue-grey.

With the emergence of his ‘Superblue’ toothpaste and other fraudulent health products, Jones has been ordered by the New York State attorney general to stop making misleading claims on his show (as has Baaker), even being served with a cease-and-desist letter, where it says that “any misrepresentation that the above-named products are effective at combating and/or treating COVID-19 violates New York law.”  

 

‘Superblue’ as featured on InfoWarStore.com. It’s likely that the description was changed after the letter was issued.

 

Another product claimed to be effective against COVID-19 is the Miracle Mineral Solution and its variants. These are supposed to have cured malaria and killed cancer cells, but they are essentially just different names for the household cleanser chlorine dioxide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against it time and time again, though conspiracy theorists are quick to claim MMS is being ‘suppressed.’

 

Jordan Sather, a YouTuber and conspiracy group affiliate, takes to twitter, perpetuating claims of alternative medicines and treatments, including MMS.

 

Jason Tetro, known on Twitter as The Germ Guy, says: “If you think any of these so-called miracle cures out there are going to help you, you have to think again. Because we only have at the moment what’s called supportive therapy – in other words, hydration, oxygen, ‘we do our best to make sure you’re going to get over this.’” 

Cure-alls will do nothing, he adds, and “we’re months, if not years away from being able to treat this with drugs,” Tetro says.

When it comes to the right information about COVID-19, it’s important to keep up to date with trustworthy information from our local government, and various health agencies.

It’s vital to listen to doctors and other medical officials.

As with any novel event, there’s always potential for misinformation, but, as Tetro says, “rather than it being misinformation, it’s really about the lack of consensus in our response.”

Because we’ve never dealt with a virus like this, there’s variance in responses, which causes confusion.

“The public doesn’t really know what’s going on in terms of the best response. The reason for that is there is no one, best response. So as a result, every country – heck every province – may have a different perspective on what the best response is,” he says.

So when you’re scrolling through social media, or are self-isolating, be mindful of the sources of your information. Is it from an expert in the field or an official organization like the World Health Organization? If not, you might want to do some fact-checking. In dealing with news about protecting yourself, it’s important to keep an eye out for scams, like the earlier mentioned cure-alls. 

Another scam that has started to raise its ugly head is the phishing scam. As in any emergency, scammers prey on the panic of the public, and the lack of confirmed information. They ask for personal information, or provide phoney links that can dump a virtual virus onto your computer.

Some claim they have quick “tests,” but for a price. Or they urge people to invest in COVID-19-related stocks.

When it comes to this virus, there’s one thing of which we can be sure: we’re in this for the long haul, and it’s not a virus to be messed with. Scams are abundant, and it’s easy to get confused by the mass of information. But for now, keep your hands clean, practise social distancing, and keep an eye on who’s talking to you and what they’re saying.

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