Lies, Damn Lies And COVID-19 Fake News

When there is a disaster, we should always look at the people running to help, and that's why it was so fitting that the "clap for carers" took place for the first time last Thursday.

Sadly, we cannot applaud those we rely on without pointing out the miscreants whose "advice" and criminal trickery must be called out. That's not just because it's the right thing to do when faced with such appalling misinformation and scams, but because, in so doing, we can all shine a light on the true advice from health care professionals. 

The Telegraph brings news today that nearly 200 fake news sites offering COVID-19 misinformation have already been blocked. According to The Guardian today, the fact-checking unit set up by Number 10 is discovering around ten new sites a day that need to be taken down. 

I must say I found it rather suspicious when a relative directed my family toward some health advice about COVID-19. The sender of a clearly fake WhatsApp message is a (retired) teacher, so nobody's fool. However, it didn't take more than a cursory glance at the site's tips to realise this was fake news. Fighting a respiratory disease, the site claimed, could be achieved through hot drinks that not only kill the virus but flush it to the stomach where acid finishes off the job. Anyone with the simplest grasp of the difference between the lungs and the stomach will realise there's no flushing away a virus out of your lungs.

That is the problem with fake news, though. It can be spread through love and fear, in equal measure. People genuinely want to alert others to advice they think will help. There's also a cynical side of getting advice beyond the Government who don't want to tell it like it is.

it beggars the question, though -- why are these sites being set up? The answer, of course, is very simple, and the reason why we all used to get up and go off to work, before we were told to stay home and look busy over Zoom. Money. 

On the fake sites front, there is a warning today from Press Gazette that Google is inadvertently funding these sites through advertising and we are all playing our part but spreading WhatsApp and social messages telling friends they have to get the inside steer of what the Chinese doctors know and our Government won't tell us. 

As for the scammers who are out there sending messages, encouraging the vulnerable to part with cash -- there's only one word for them and it's not repeatable in polite company. You can get an idea of what sort of evil ploys are being used to get people to send money via the Sky News this morning, which features screen grabs of quite a few schemes. A new ploy seems to be asking for a fine to be paid because a person was seen outside. I know -- it beggars belief. 

As ever, then, we need to look at the people rushing to help. That's not just our key workers. It's worth remembering that Google has prioritised official information to be at the top of all searches around COVID-19, and the social media giants have been working hard to put out the official guidance from healthcare professionals in the hope that it will drown out the fake news spreaders and scammers. 

So, we must continue to applaud the key workers keeping the country going while also calling out misinformation and scams because it is only by warning people and pointing them towards factual, official help that we can minimise the period we're all on lockdown.

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