Having seen the empty shelves with my own eyes, it really is true that people scared by the coronavirus are raiding their local supermarkets for… toilet paper.
They're stocking up on other stuff as well like dried beans, rice and flour, but it's the toilet paper and bottled water that are the head-scratchers.
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Sure, I can understand that it's good to be prepared for the worst. Maybe people are worried that the North Island drought will see the water supply run dry but it's very unlikely.
Could be that people don't have an emergency kit ready. Having to self-isolate for a fortnight is a long time so keeping a few spare rolls of two-ply handy is probably a good idea.
That said, the panic buying of huge amounts of toilet paper does seem to be down to internet-borne rumours that the coronavirus putting the kibosh on Chinese imports will cause a bog roll shortage in New Zealand. Again, that seems very unlikely, as we actually make the stuff here.
Nevertheless, toilet paper seems to be a bellwether of how worried people are about some unforeseen event and it precedes the internet by quite some years. Japan and the United States both experienced rushes on supermarkets as disinformation and rumours spread that there would be toilet paper shortages thanks to the oil embargo in 1973.
No matter if it's for good reasons or falling for a hoax, why would people worried about Covid-19 go and throng with crowds in a supermarket and risk exposure to the viruses they might carry?
It's safer to panic shop online surely, and have goods delivered. Technology actually does make things better sometimes, so make the most of it.
Tech also increases your exposure to disinformation, unfortunately, even when you don't go looking for the bogus stuff.
I was searching for a security researcher's Twitter account to see if he had commented on a recent vulnerability; I didn't find his account, but one operated by a person with the same last name popped up.
That non-infosec person is peddling colloidal silver as a cure against the Covid-19 virus. Colloidal silver, taken in large doses, can be a poisonous way to permanently turn your skin Smurf-blue, and it's not going to help at all with any virus.
Very uncool of Twitter not to take that down, unlike Facebook which has banned coronavirus miracle cure ads. That was an entirely sensible move by the social network, as there are some insane things being claimed like drinking bleach will cure Covid-19 infections.
Amazon has a bunch of coronavirus prepper and survivalist e-books for sale, some with swiweleyed claims that the bug is a bioweapon made in China, and how to make herbal tinctures for protection.
I wasn't able to find the homeopathic coronavirus vaccine an acquaintance claimed to have bought online however, and suspect the person was just trolling me.
India's government is quite serious about advising social media users to turn to homeopathy and ingesting arsenic as therapy to ward off Covid-19 on the other hand.
As with bleach-drinking, that kind of homeopathic "medication" might just finish off the sick if the virus fails to do so.
Russia meanwhile has revved up its internet disinformation machine again to capitalise on the virus pandemic and stick it to the US which is blamed for creating Covid-19 as an economic weapon against China.
Not sure what Bill Gates has done to annoy the Russians, but their social media troll army claims the Microsoft founder is in on the virus conspiracy as well.
If and when a vaccine against the novel coronavirus appears, it's a safe bet the trolls and bots will spread falsehoods and disinformation about it, just like with measles.
As if the above wasn't enough, phishers too are getting in on the virus action which is sad to see. The World Health Organisation has had to issue a warning about scumbags impersonating the WHO in order to rip off users.
Disinformation and generally crazy stuff about diseases and pandemics is nothing new but the internet unfortunately amplifies the falsehoods and gives them enormous reach.
That's extremely dangerous of course. We really need to learn how to disseminate true and correct information as effectively as disinformants do to drown out their lies and untruths that absolutely will hurt us.