Fake News

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop and so is an idle mind. Being cooped up at home is an open invitation to bodily harm and unhinges the mental balance as well. The wielding of potentially lethal tools to craft do-it-yourself hobby objects that usually offend any lingering sense of aesthetics is bad enough, but the proliferation of idle time is even worse and leads to spooked minds ready to believe just about anything.

Some people eager to identify and eliminate a culprit have taken to setting transmission towers alight in the belief, both sincere and pathetic, that 5G signals somehow cause a potent virus to emerge out of the aether. In an ironic touch, most torched towers had no 5G transmitters installed. The only thing the arsonists manage to accomplish were localised outages of the 4G mobile network, hampering the work of emergency responders.

Earlier this week another bit of fake news went viral when it transpired that the novel corona virus had supposedly escaped, or was released on purpose, from the den of evil scientists in China. That nugget of misinformation was attributed to Professor Tasuku Honjo, a Japanese immunologist who in 2018 received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in recognition of his discovery of the programmed cell death protein (PD-1). Prof Honjo, it was said, had studied the corona virus whilst working in China. His conclusion: the virus is man-made.

None of it was true. Anyone bothered enough to google the professor’s name would have been able to dismiss the story in a heartbeat.

However, millions of believers couldn’t be bothered the check the facts but did manage to find the time to retweet or share the story. When faced with the truth, many instantly detected a cover-up and expanded on their conspiracy theory.

There is nothing strange in people searching for explanations to strange phenomena that transcend their understanding of the world. Every major event, from the assassination of JFK and the death of Elvis to 9/11 and now the pandemic, births a number of wild theories that seems inversely proportional to the impact and importance of the occurrence.

Though there is nothing new in this, the internet does speed up the dissemination of fake news and widens its reach considerably. The velocity and ferocity with which alt-truths propagate undermine the confidence in both science and politics – the two pillars that must provide guidance and comfort to societies cowed by the pandemic. Once the trust in authority is gone – and it is slowly going – only cacophony remains whilst people are cast adrift rudderless and clueless. Fake news going viral represents, in fact, a danger greater than any real virus.