Monday, July 5, 2021

Fake Pandemic News in Brazil

Vanessa Barbara reports in the Times that Brazil is still awash in fake news stories about the pandemic. Despite hundreds of debunkings of hydroxychloroquine, many people still believe:

After all, just the other day a friend’s cousin forwarded a headline on WhatsApp claiming that all I.C.U. beds in the city of Miracatu are empty because the mayor adopted President Jair Bolsonaro’s “early treatment” — consisting of hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and azithromycin — for Covid-19. OK, Miracatu does not have a hospital. But still: How can we be sure?

That’s just one of dozens of fake news stories about Covid-19 treatments circulating on social media — including one that advocates “nebulized” hydroxychloroquine, Mr. Bolsonaro’s new obsession. Well over a year into the pandemic, false claims still swirl. Is it true that face masks reduce the flow of oxygen to the lungs and can cause cancer? Is the coronavirus a biological weapon created by China? What about the involvement of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros?

Even now, after the death of half a million citizens, Brazilians are forwarding delirious claims that hospitals are empty and people are being buried alive to inflate coronavirus statistics. Last year, as daily deaths soared, stories about empty coffins and staged burials abounded. It’s almost as if Brazilians couldn’t — wouldn’t — accept that things could really be so bad and took refuge in paranoia, suspicion and conspiracy. In this, of course, they had a guide: Mr. Bolsonaro, at every turn, has sought to spread mischief and misinformation.

In my better moods I believe the US will survive the flood of false news stories on social media. The real danger is in other places; after all, India and Sri Lanka have already seen flash mob attacks on innocent people accused on Twitter of kidnapping and the like. Could there one day be a flash mob revolution, inspired by a fake story, that succeeds?

Awesome plot for a thriller, anyway. Too bad I'm busy writing a different one.

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