“Dangerous quack cures” for the coronavirus being shared online should be reported to social media companies immediately, the government has said.
Lemon juice, liquid silver and hot water are among the remedies being suggested in anti-vaccination Facebook groups that have hundreds of thousands of followers.
YouTube bloggers are also sharing theories that China created the virus as a bio-weapon to attack the US economy and comments are being spread online about the 5G network being able to control the oxygen supply of coronavirus patients.
New social media guidance drawn up by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and endorsed by the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, asks people not to reply to or share misinformation on social media, even if they want to point out it is wrong. This is to avoid spreading it further, as any engagement can place it in other people’s timelines.
Instead people are being asked to report misinformation to social media platforms and group administrators, and to share official NHS information as much as possible to push it into social media algorithms.
Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:
- a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly
NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.
If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.
If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.
If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
Staying at home means you should:
- not go to work, school or public areas
- not use public transport or taxis
- not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
- not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home
You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.
Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020
Suggestions that have featured on the Stop Mandatory Vaccination website, which has 180,000 followers in the UK and US, on how to treat a child with suspected coronavirus include elderberry syrup, placing sliced onions on the bottom of their feet and rubbing their back with lemon and lavender oil to draw the virus away from the brain. Colloidal silver, which can lead to skin turning a light bluish-grey, is another treatment being pushed online.
Dowden, who is also in charge of the country’s digital strategy, said: “I urge the industry to play their part too and act fast to stem the spread of misinformation on coronavirus on their platforms. But we can also all take action now by following these guidelines from the CCDH to tackle fake news in our everyday online lives.”
The former health secretary Alan Johnson is also backing the push to counter fake news about the virus online. He said: “At worst, misinformation can make people try dangerous quack cures that can really damage them, but also take risks that put everyone at risk.”
The guidelines drawn up by CCDH, called “Don’t Spread The Virus”, advisesocial media users not to share or comment on falsehoods they find online, even if they feel compelled to do so in outrage or anger.
The body says this simply rebroadcasts the misinformation to other people’s networks and directs social media algorithms to show the misleading content to more users.
They are asking people to block anyone they do not know who is sharing misinformation, to send a private messageto those they know who are sharing misinformation to ask them not to do so, and to report misinformation to social media platforms and group admins.
People are also being asked to share the official medical advice produced by the NHS and UK government, as well as posts promoting good causes. These adverts are not naturally shared by people online and have less engagement so the government thinks it could be a way of drowning out poor information and conspiracy theories.
Another example of fake information came from one influential YouTube vlogger who told his followers incorrectly that coronavirus tests did not work and advised drinking hot water and taking hot baths to kill the virus.
A post by a Facebook user in Australia that said China had developed a vaccine and was withholding it from the world was shared 130,000 times in just over 24 hours.
Phil Hammond, an NHS doctor and broadcaster, who is also backing the scheme, said: “Misinformation is as dangerous as contaminated water. It causes untold harm and is profoundly disempowering.”