More viral than any virus

Exploring COVID-19 misinformation and counter narratives

Photo: Pixabay

As more and more cases of COVID-19 crop up across the world, so too do myths, conspiracy theories, and counter narratives surrounding the virus. In this post, I explore some of the wildest ones — and share what you can do to help stop this “infodemic.”

Myth #1: Hot Yoga will Save You

A Bikram’s yoga studio based in Delta, BC recently had its business license suspended for reassuring clients that coming to the studio was not only safe, but desirable.

Source: CBC News BC via Twitter

“[T]his supposed virus cannot survive in the heat,” owner Mak Parhar wrote in an email to clients. “Bikram yoga is the best way to keep your immune system healthy and/or the best way to build and improve your immune system to fight flus, colds, bacteria and viruses.”

Both statements are false, according to BC’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Yoga studios are places where people are sweating next to each other,” she said in her daily COVID-19 press conference. “And that is a perfect environment to spread this virus.”

Myth #2: It was Leaked from a Lab

An article published in late February by the New York Post falsely blamed Chinese researchers for letting the deadly coronavirus “escape” from a Wuhan-based microbiology lab.

“China has unleashed a plague on its own people,” the Post reported,“the human cost will be high.”

Source: James Hirsen via Twitter

As popular as the story was on Twitter, it was later debunked by digital health expert Bruce Y. Lee in an article for Forbes.

“[I]t’s a lot easier to leak a pocket of air though your butt than a virus from a BSL-4 facility,” Lee wrote. “To be designated as a BSL-4, the lab has to have the appropriate ventilation systems, reinforced walls, security systems, and construction to keep the wrong things inside and the right things outside.”

Myth #3: You Can Catch it from Bubble Wrap

Possibly the funniest of the COVID-19 myths, the idea that bubble wrap could be deadly began with a satirical message posted by the North Carolina Breaking News Facebook page.

“The ambient air in those concealed bubbles could could absolutely house the virus in non viable format for up to a year,” said the post.

Source: Chuck624 via Twitter

But according to fact-checking company Snopes, North Carolina Breaking News not a media company at all, but a “Satire/Parody” group. More importantly, new research shows that COVID-19 can only survive for a maximum of 3 hours in the air. So rest assured, you can keep popping those bubbles.

What can you do?

These are just a few of the rumors, counter narratives, and conspiracy theories circulating about the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are many more. Some of these stories, like the one about the bubble wrap, have been more or less harmless. But others, like the myth that drinking alcohol can keep the virus at bay, have been deadly. As misinformation about the virus proliferates, stopping its spread has become everyone’s responsibility.

The most effective way to prevent COVID-19 myths from thriving to fact-check all claims before sharing them with friends or followers. Luckily, there are lots of great resources available to help. Snopes has an entire collection dedicated to debunking Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories, as does the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network. First Draft also has a useful list of pointers for avoiding misinformation on social media, which includes turning a critical eye to the source, history, evidence, emotion, and pictures associated with suspicious claims.

Source: First Draft

Finally, trust your gut! If something sounds too crazy to be true, chances are, it probably is. If you’re unsure, seek out a more credible source, like your local health authority. But most importantly, treat misinformation like you would any virus: if you think you might have it, do your best not to pass it on.

Alice is a writer, editor, and researcher who is interested in science communication, psychology, and spoon carving. More at: alicefleerackers.com