Northlanders are being bombarded with rumours, misinformation and outright hoaxes on social media as the region deals with its first case of Covid-19.

The global spread of the virus has sparked a frenzy on social media platforms such as Facebook, but not all the information being shared is reliable.

When the government announced Northland's first case on Thursday social media users variously claimed to know with certainty that the patient was in Whangārei, Moerewa, Totara North, Mangawhai, Kaeo and Kerikeri. One person even named a specific street.

Others made exaggerated claims about the number of Northlanders confirmed as having the virus, or claimed that two Thai students at Kerikeri High School had tested positive even after both were cleared.


Dubious health advice claiming to come from medical sources, such as the Ministry of Health or doctors in China, is also being widely shared. An email currently being circulated pretends to be from St George's Hospital in Sydney.

Fake advice includes claims that lemon juice, hot beverages or drinking water every 15 minutes will kill the virus or stop it reaching the lungs.

One hoax urges people to gargle hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching agent which can cause ulcers, gut perforations, and mouth or throat burns.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said social media users had a responsibility not to share information they weren't sure was true.

''As a recipient of content that is potentially fake news or misinformation, it's important to be wary and sceptical of everything that's presented to you. You also have a responsibility, if you are posting something or considering passing something on, not to spread something which could be misinformation. It's a good idea to do some research first, and if it's untrue the best thing to do is get rid of it.''

Social media was a viral tool so misinformation could spread quickly, much like the virus itself.

His advice for people who wanted accurate information about Covid-19 was to rely on the Ministry of Health website rather than social media posts by people without qualifications or expertise.

Social media is rife with coronavirus misinformation. Image / Getty
Social media is rife with coronavirus misinformation. Image / Getty

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Community notice boards have been prolific spreaders of Covid-19 misinformation, prompting some administrators to clamp down.

Katy Jane Taylor, admin of the Kerikeri Notice Board, put up a post on Thursday setting out rules for Covid-19 posts.

She said the page would continue to host discussion and posts about the community's response to the virus but would not carry health advice other than from the Ministry of Health — ''information we can rely on, not conspiracy theories''.

The same policy has since been adopted by the Northland Grapevine and other pages.

''I'd been concerned about some of the misinformation ... Some of the advice that was being shared could have made the threat worse,'' Taylor said.

She had received complaints from people feeling their freedom of speech had been denied, but others had thanked her.

''When I see something that will add to the panic or anger I just delete it. As admins of these pages we have a duty to our community to keep accurate facts and updates coming.''

Netsafe's social media advice

■ Be sceptical of everything you read. Who's posting it, and why? What expertise do they have? Are they writing about something they heard or saw themselves, or are they passing on hearsay?
■ Think before you press the share button. Do some fact-checking. Where did the information came from? If you're not sure it's true, you have a responsibility not to share it.
■ Reduce the spread of misinformation by reporting misleading posts, scams and fake accounts to Facebook (click on 'Report Post') or, if it's in a group, the page administrator.
■ For accurate information go to