Fake virus news is more dangerous than the actual illness, says Alison Phillips

The cab driver turned slowly towards me in the back seat and my heart cartwheeled with fear.

His face was almost entirely disguised by a full mask. Think Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs.

“Do you hear the lambs screaming, Clarice?” he murmured.

“What?” I squealed.

“Do you hear the lights are screwed on the A13? Carnage.”

“Oh,” I replied, getting my senses back in check and realising that was what he’d said the first time.

My driver was of course just wearing the mask as a sensible precaution for a gig-economy worker during the coronavirus outbreak.

But what he was to say next was way more terrifying than a horror film flight of fancy.

“Yeh, so 70 per cent of us are going to die of this virus,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s true,” I replied. “I think 80 per cent of us might catch it – but of that only a tiny, tiny proportion might lose their lives.”

“Well, it said on Facebook that it’d be 70 per cent. Finito,” he persisted.

And there we have it – a virus far more dangerous to our society than any passing illness – the insidious, corrosive presence of fake news circulated on social media. And people’s willingness to believe it.

Because of course it’s nonsense. As agreed by all the doctors, experts and those who’ve spent a lifetime studying how diseases spread (who knew epidemiology was even a thing a month ago, now I can spell it and everything).

Exaggerations, mistruths and hysteria are far easier to spread on social media than the truth.

On Sunday evening I met a friend (generally sensible and well-informed) who was insistent that coronavirus had been created in a lab in Russia and then planted in China as an act of economic warfare.

“That’s not what the experts think,” I said.

“How come the Russians haven’t got it then eh?” she insisted.

“Maybe they’re better at washing their hands?” I ventured.

Again the FACT that scientists studying this disease say it hasn’t got the properties of a manmade disease meant absolutely nothing.

Some people are blaming it all on the rollout of the 5G network, which seems too bonkers to even write down.

And in the United States, there is a vast swathe of people who don’t believe coronavirus even exists. Try telling that to the people fighting for their lives in Italian hospitals.

But the sickness in our society leading people to believe stuff which “Sounds Right” in the face of evidence which “Is Right” has been growing for years.

Forget coronavirus for a moment.

Let’s worry about conspiracyvirus.

And let’s get angry about those making money from it and causing fear, uncertainty and risk in doing so.

The government has now had to spend much-needed resources on a special unit to combat fake corona news circulating on social media.

I know regular readers of the Daily Mirror understand the importance of getting their news and information from a trusted source.

But now we all have a duty to make others understand the importance of that too. And to make them question where their half-baked

and batty ideas are coming from – especially young people unthinkingly taking their news updates from strangers on YouTube.

It’s time to stop the sickness spreading – be it coronavirus or conspiracyvirus.

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