- Fake alerts and posts circulating on social media, often claiming to be from the WHO or a national health ministry, include bogus suggestions that garlic, sesame oil and vitamin C can kill this particular strand of coronavirus.
- There is as yet no cure for the deadly virus that's now killed more than 400 people and sickened more than 20,000.
Some of the World Health Organization's recent Twitter posts may seem like obvious statements, but amid rapidly spreading misinformation about the new coronavirus, thousands if not millions of people are being exposed to false health warnings and quack treatment methods.
"There is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from 2019-nCoV," the WHO posted on its official Twitter account last week, along with the hashtag #KnowtheFacts.
Fake alerts and posts circulating on social media, often claiming to be from the WHO or a national health ministry, include bogus suggestions that garlic, sesame oil and vitamin C can kill this particular strand of coronavirus, first identified in the city of Wuhan, China in late December.
One alert widely shared in the United Arab Emirates via popular messaging service Whatsapp, falsely attributed to the country's Ministry of Health, warns that the virus will "invade" your throat "within 10 minutes" if you don't drink enough water. None of these are true, and there is as yet no cure for the deadly virus that's now killed more than 400 people and sickened more than 20,000.
The WHO, which has declared the illness a global health emergency, is warning against misinformation and the harm it can cause.
In Malaysia, five people have been arrested for spreading fake news about the virus — one post shared on Facebook, falsely claiming to be from a government department, showed a fake picture of the virus and read in Malay: "This is an image of one of many 'Allah's armies' sent to attack China in the form of coronavirus. This is the actual image of the virus as seen under a very powerful microscope." The post was shared more than 700 times.
As the crisis deepens, social media companies and internet giants are taking steps to tackle the misinformation spreading on their platforms.
Google has started displaying information from the WHO about the virus in search results, while its video-sharing platform YouTube is promoting videos on it from credible sources.
"It's time for facts, not fear," tweeted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO. "We appreciate Google, Facebook, TencentGlobal, TikTok and Twitter's efforts to combat misinformation and rumors on #2019nCoV & direct users to reliable sources."
Facebook, which has come under intense criticism for its handling of misinformation, is the latest to pledge to join the fight against fake content concerning the coronavirus.
The firm will "remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them," its head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said in a blog post Thursday.
"This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods — like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus — or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available," Jin added.
If you search for "coronavirus" on Twitter, you're met with a banner that reads "Know the facts," with links to local official health departments based on the location of the search. The top results of a Facebook search for coronavirus on Tuesday listed posts from Harvard University, NBC News and BBC News.
Still, experts worry that with a reach of billions of people, false information will continue to spread via social media and it may be impossible to control all the content being shared as fear — and often hysteria — over the illness grows. News outlets have already reported on racially-charged misinformation targeting people from China, where the vast majority of confirmed cases and deaths have taken place.
At the time of writing, the Malaysian post claiming that coronavirus came from "Allah" to "attack China" was still on Facebook.
—CNBC's Ryan Browne contributed to this report.