There's an outbreak with the potential to be much deadlier than coronavirus, SARS or Ebola. But unlike these diseases, you can easily shape the course of this epidemic from home.
First, the facts: as of Thursday, more than 76,000 cases of novel coronavirus (or Covid-19) infection have been reported worldwide, the vast majority in China. Officials there say they've seen more than 2100 deaths.
Countries have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the epidemic. But officials say more resources are needed for containment.
While health officials are busy testing for infection, treating patients and explaining to the public the need for reasonable precautions, a subset of morons have ridden their keyboards into cyberspace.
For some, the goal is instilling panic; for others, it's making a profit. And another set of people without sinister intent or profit motive will hit the "share" button because they're either too gullible or too attention-seeking to spend two minutes uncovering whether a claim is true or false.
Thanks to rumour-mongers, conspiracy theorists and people whose online use should be restricted to Candy Crush, disinformation has the power to kill.
Just as quickly as we learned of the latest pandemic, we also started reading falsehoods, some of which, if taken seriously, could prevent people from getting proven medical treatment for coronavirus.
A plethora of misinformation has led World Health Organisation workers to call it an "infodemic".
The New York Times reported earlier this month the WHO has partnered with technology companies such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google.
They say tech giants have been prominently posting links to WHO content, making falsehoods harder to find in searches or on news streams, and sometimes removing content altogether.
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Earlier this week, my Twitter feed featured a headline, "Know the facts" with buttons linking to the New Zealand Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation.
The information on these sites may not be as titillating as junk science or a clickbait-y website, but it's rooted in research, rather than rumour.
Those on the side of science and technology have battled false information such as the notion eating garlic can help prevent infection from coronavirus; it was created as a bioweapon, was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further vaccine sales, or that it can be killed by drinking a bleach concoction (which can cause liver failure).
Just like a biological virus, these ideas are easily transmitted from person to person. Their spread has the power to infect, sicken or kill when people treat themselves with bleach or garlic rather than visiting a doctor.
Some disinformation vectors spread lies because they don't trust science; others seek to make a buck selling snake oil such as bleach water or colloidal silver.
Online, anyone can call themselves an expert - think of people you know touting themselves as marketing, relationship, money or health experts after attending a few workshops and parroting jargon.
Credentialed scientists, doctors and other health professionals attend many years of post-secondary education to be able to study disease and treat patients.
Yet some of us would rather buy magic water from someone trapped in a multi-level marketing scheme than take medicine that's been proven mostly safe and effective (though no pill is perfect).
Hoaxers who digest a daily diet of falsehoods from pseudo-news sites are having a Corona party: Claiming the US is proposing martial law to combat the virus; the disease was lab-created for population control; China stole coronavirus from Canada to weaponise it; 10,000 people have died in Wuhan; and many more… All of these items, dressed up as news, are false.
I won't publicise fabrication factories, but will tell you instead, about resources to check before you "like" and "share" a juicy bit of news: PolitiFact is the non-profit project run by the Poynter Institute - it lists sources so you can triple-check items yourself. Other resources include Snopes.com and Factcheck.org.
My children from at least Year 7 learned in school how to discern a website's credibility using such methods as finding the same information on multiple mainstream science, government or news sites; and analysing and interpreting information while checking for bias or stereotypes.
Whether the lessons have stuck is debatable, as my teens were among the throngs of people worldwide who fell for the viral standing broom hoax earlier this month ( https://www.sciencealert.com/nasa-video-explains-why-twitter-s-viral-broom-challenge-is-a-hoax )
We might expect better judgement from adults, but sadly, their fact versus fiction-o-meter can be grossly out of whack. Case in point: Arkansas senator Tom Cotton told Fox New s it was possible coronavirus had originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, China.
The conspiracy theory lacks evidence and has been dismissed by scientists. Senator Cotton later backpedalled on the issue.
Experts generally dismiss the theory coronavirus was lab-created, saying it resembled SARS and other viruses that come from bats.
The New York Times says, "While contagious, so far it appears to largely threaten the lives of older people with chronic health issues, making it a less-than-effective bioweapon."
You can outsource a lot of things, but brains and judgment are inherently yours to use. Or to squander. Why check facts when you can instantly share outrage and help spread disease?
It's your choice - be part of the disinformation campaign by indiscriminately sharing factoids, memes and phony stories, or help stop viral lies that could cost lives.