When President Trump was asked why he refused to self-test for the Coronavirus, he said he didn’t “feel” sick. Although he has since succumbed to the test, his response underscores the fear that many Americans have: We don’t know whom and what to believe. Can you still have the virus and not feel sick? (Yes.) Information is coming at us at warp speed from both reliable and unreliable sources, and it is hard to not be suspicious of the heyday the media is currently enjoying. However, it is arguably easier to blame the media than face our fears of this pandemic.
While Facebook and other social media platforms may be a source for some reliable information, they have no mechanism (or use, given their purpose) for authenticating the veracity of information posted. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are an interactive repository for our impulsive whims; You feel it? Post it. Someone out there is bound to react and the attention we seek will be satisfied. Unlike news channels, social media platforms provide us with instant feedback and gratification and the desire to interact is hard to resist. The danger lies in the dissemination of information that is inaccurate and potentially deadly.
The following catastrophic meme, replete with glaring grammatical mistakes, is circulating on Facebook: “Corona virus before it reaches the lungs it remains in the throat for four days and at this time the person begins to cough and have throat pains. If he drinks water a lot and gargling with warm water & salt or vinegar eliminates the virus. Spread this information because you can save someone with this information.”
Although obviously ridiculous, this meme has been liked by far too many people who are dying to hang on to some glimmer of hope. Ironically, dying is the potential consequence of believing such garbage.
While we are not sure what to believe and whom to trust, there are some reliable sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, or, in Israel, the Ministry of Health for us to turn to. (Conspiracy theorists need not comment. It’s the best we’ve got.) I understand that the CDC website is not sexy. There is no sharing of anecdotal or amusing opinions from 25 of your friends, neighbors, and cousins reporting directly from their basements after several Coronas with a twist of lime (I just couldn’t resist). The CDC website is dry, boring and scientifically factual. Let’s rely on it.
Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve all had to be reminded to wash our hands with soap and water and not stick our dirty fingers into our facial orifices? Do we also have to be reminded that just because we see it on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s real?
The indiscriminate dissemination of inaccurate information is potentially deadly. Turning off the media and burying our heads in the sand is not realistic or advisable. Turning to reliable sources for information is simply prudent, and by “reliable,” I don’t mean the news network that best suits our personal political viewpoints. The fact is that this virus is not dangerous for the majority of the population. We may not even know that we are carriers; however, that is what makes it so inherently dangerous.
A teacher in our school district posted a comment from her spring break outside the U.S. indicating that she doesn’t want to return home. She stated that she and her family are enjoying life as normal, shaking hands and interacting with many people. It must be wonderful to feel like you have arrived in Shangri-La, but ignoring the scientific basis of this virus, can be catastrophic towards others with whom we share this planet. This is not the time to think only of ourselves; this is a global crisis and whether we like it or not, we are in it together.
I am not fearful of becoming sick, but I am terrified of acting as a carrier and passing this virus on to less resilient members of my family and community who are older or immuno-compromised. Relying on social media as science results in behaviors that are potentially deadly to others.
I am not an expert on infectious diseases, but I do know this: Common sense is always a good idea. I know these are extremely trying times, but let’s all try to reclaim it.