WhatsApp coronavirus text hoaxes are spreading like wildfire – and no one knows how to stop them
Public health officials across the globe are struggling to track a slew of viral texts offering everything from phoney cures to fake statements from political figures.
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That's because WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning only the sender and receiver can see them.
WhatsApp itself does not follow the flow of messages across its platform.
"It is clear … that a lot of false information continues to appear in the public sphere," European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová said this week.
"In particular, we need to understand better the risks related to communication on end-to-end encryption services."
Below are some of the major hoaxes to look out for.
One bogus message circulating on WhatsApp suggests garlic is the remedy the world is looking for.
This is obviously nonsense, as there's no evidence to suggest we know of any cure for COVID-19 yet.
The message reads: “Pass it please. Good news, Wuhan’s coronavirus can be cured by one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water.
“Old Chinese doctor has proven it’s efficacy. Many patients have also proven this to be effective.
“Eight (8) cloves of chopped garlic add 7(cups) of water and bring to boil.
“Eat and drink the boiled garlic water, overnight improvement and heading. Glad to share this.”
The message was exposed as a hoax by the NHS last month.
The NHS explained: “There is no specific treatment for coronavirus. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the infection.”
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Countries or cities 'about to enter shutdown'
Over the weekend, WhatsApp users across the United States received a message falsely claiming the country was about to enter shutdown.
Citing "reliable" sources, such as a friend-of-a-friend who works at the CIA or a brother in the military, the message warned of an imminent two-week quarantine for all US citizens.
It read: "Military staff just got out out of a two-hour meeting … in 48-72 hours the President will issue a nationwide two-week mandatory quarantine under the Stafford act.
It continued: "Make sure we have two weeks of necessities on hand. You guys stay safe and pray! Task force just announced that advanced guidelines will go out to the public tomorrow."
Officials are said to have been shocked at how quickly the hoax message spread, sparking panic among thousands of Americans.
A similar scam emerged this week claiming London was about to enter shutdown.
Earlier this month the UK government pledged to set up a “counter disinformation unit” across teams in Whitehall.
It will fight back against text scams and hoax social media posts.
Ibuprofen 'makes disease worse'
A WhatsApp post falsely claimed that four people with COVID-19 got worse after taking anti-inflammatory drugs.
The reported cases were at Cork University hospital and involved four young people with no underlying illnesses and who were taking anti-inflammatories.
It claims that paracetamol should be used instead of anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, voltarol and naproxen for pain or high temperature.
It claims that “there seems to be a link between severe cases of Covid-19 affecting young people with no underlying illnesses and taking anti-inflammatories.”
The post has since been proven false by fact checkers and denied by the clinical lead of Ireland’s public health service.
The message has been branded "misinformation".
On March 19, the World Health Organization officially stated that ibuprofen is safe.
Londoners warned to keep their doors shut
One WhatsApp message circulating around London WhatsApp groups claims criminals are going door-to-door posing as coronavirus testers.
"Please don't open your door as they are criminal," the message reads.
"Tell all your friends and family. They try to push themselves into homes and flats to steal and rob."
The Met Police has since confirmed the message is fake.
In other news, WhatsApp has quietly created a secret 'self-deleting message' feature.
Read our guide on how to send GIFs on WhatsApp.
And, WhatsApp's new Dark Mode has been branded "ugly" and "gross" by some users.
Do you know any good WhatsApp tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!
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