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Ignore 'fake news', but applaud those who are doing good

Canon Ian Ellis


A nurse at Antrim Area Hospital tests a woman for the virus

A nurse at Antrim Area Hospital tests a woman for the virus

A nurse at Antrim Area Hospital tests a woman for the virus

There have many complaints, emanating not least from the White House, about "fake news" in the political arena. I noticed the term recently arising in connection with the coronavirus.

The charity, Christian Aid, has set out to expose misinformation about the virus.

In an article earlier this month entitled, 'Coronavirus fake news: How Christian Aid is tackling it', the charity cites some examples: 'Injecting disinfectant into the body might kill coronavirus'; 'coronavirus only affects white people'; ginger, garlic and even alcohol can 'prevent or cure coronavirus'.

Examples of the charity's efforts to combat misinformation were given from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, including

  • promoting correct information and details of preventative steps against the virus through radio advertisements and social media in Nigeria and Nepal;
  • working with local partners in Bangladesh to develop a "a fake news tracking sheet" which is then shared local doctors; and
  • tackling stigma in Myanmar around coronavirus as well as distributing soap.

Fake news about coronavirus has been surprisingly widespread.

In June, the BBC reported that according to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, some 649 posts "were reported to Facebook and Twitter, including false cures, anti-vaccination propaganda and conspiracy theories around 5G".

Facebook said: "During March and April we placed warning labels on around 90 million pieces of content related to Covid-19 and these labels stopped people viewing the original content 95% of the time."

Twitter commented that it was prioritising the removal of Covid-19 content "when it has a call to action that could potentially cause harm", with the organisation's automated systems having challenged "more than 4.3 million accounts which were targeting discussions around Covid-19 with spammy or manipulative behaviours".

There have also been reports of various scams, such a providing false online maps of coronavirus infections which in fact, once clicked on, install malicious programs of people's computers, or offering counterfeit protection equipment.

Then again, there have been people making bogus phone calls, luring the unsuspecting into giving banking details.

Stormont health minister Robin Swann said last month that his department's medicines regulatory group had been made aware of "fake medicine" for the treatment of Covid-19 having been illegally imported into Northern Ireland.

Mr Swann added: "I urge the public not to be fooled by online offers for medical products."

At the same time, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride described the risk to the public due to unlicensed medicines as "significant" and urged the public to be vigilant.

What all of this says to me is that, very sadly, there are many unscrupulous people who will stoop so low as to try to take advantage of the vulnerable in these extremely difficult circumstances.

The contrast with the many, many people who have put their own lives on the line in order to care for the sick is stark.

One is reminded of the words in the Gospel of John "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3: 19)

May people everywhere be moved, not to harm or take advantage of others in the midst of this pandemic, but truly to care for others.

Canon Ian Ellis is rector of St John's, Newcastle, and a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette

Belfast Telegraph