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People are spreading memes and fake news online as the deadly coronavirus spreads across the globe

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  • The Wuhan coronavirus, which has so far killed over 100 people, has appeared in at least 16 countries around like the globe, including the United States.
  • Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter are working to combat the spread of viral misinformation about the virus, like that Oregano Oil can act as a cure.
  • Social media users in China have circumvented rules on criticizing the government, avoiding censors to lash out at the state response. 
  • In the US, people share tales from Wuhan, media advice, and of course, memes.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Wuhan coronavirus has so far claimed more than 100 lives, infected more than 4,000 others and appeared in at least 16 countries across the globe, including the United States.  Social media has been rife with content about the virus, which has seemingly gone viral on social media amid news, fears, and memes.

Here is how social media has responded to the Wuhan coronavirus. 

Facebook, Google, and Twitter are working to fight coronavirus misinformation

While China and nations throughout the globe work to limit the spread of the deadly virus, tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all working toward limiting the spread of misinformation about the virus shared on their platforms. 

According to a Washington Post report from January 27, Facebook, in particular, has tried to limit the spread of conspiracy theories about the Wuhan coronavirus, including one that the US government manufactured the deadly disease and holds a patent for it. Though, according to the Post report, the process has not been easy as much of the misinformation on Facebook occurs in private groups which are difficult for Facebook to monitor. 

One such post shared in groups on Facebook claims that Oregano Oil is a cure for the virus, though the article is more than a decade old and there’s no such cure for coronavirus, The Post reported.

Per WaPo, seven fact-checking organizations partner with Facebook to flag such misinformation, and when it’s discovered, Facebook says it labels it as inaccurate and lowers its ranking in its users’ feeds. 

Other social giants, like Google and Twitter, have also attempted to limit the spread of incorrect information on their platforms. When Twitter users search for coronavirus, the company directs them to to the Centers for Disease Control for the most up-to-date information. Google-owned YouTube said its algorithm favors videos from credible sources, though WaPo noted there are still videos with inaccurate information available to watch. 

ByteDance added new features to Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, in response to the virus

As Insider previously reported, Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, added features in a reported effort to help users fight the spread of coronavirus. The app, owned by ByteDance, added a #FightPneumonia page to share updates on the virus and tips for how the app’s users can work to prevent the spread, TMTPost originally reported.  

The app has also launched a “Jiayou” video effect to seemingly encourage users to leave positive messages for coronavirus patients and the medical personnel working to fight it. 

As Insider noted, Chinese celebrities and other personalities have posted videos using the Jiayou effect, flashing thumbs up to share their support. In English, “Jiayou” translates to “expressing encouragement, incitement, or support: go on! go for it,” according to the previous Insider report. 

ByteDance also made a big purchase that coincidentally corresponds to the virus’s timing. According to the South China Morning Post, ByteDance struck a 630 million yuan (about $90,000,000 US) deal with Huanxi Media to stream new movies directly to users using its Douyin, Toutiao, Xigua Video, and Huoshan apps. The move comes as movie theaters in Wuhan and across China are forced to close amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Critics of the Chinese government dodge censors to criticize it online 

The New York Times reported on January 27 that people in China were posting online about their panic and anger, dodging social media censors to post criticisms of the government on social media platforms amid the ongoing outbreak, which may have started at a Chinese wet market

Because criticism of the Chinese government is banned on social media, people in China have gotten creative in order to post about the outbreak. In some instances, people have referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as “Trump” to avoid the censors, The New York Times reported. Others, the NYT said, have called the outbreak “Chernobyl” to evade the censorship rules.

While some Chinese news outlets have covered the outbreak somewhat critically, the NYT noted that many articles and comments about the disease have been deleted. The government has warned against spreading what it deems “rumors,” the NYT said. 

The internet backlash seems to have had some degree of success. When the city of Shantou instituted a travel ban similar to that of the one issued in Wuhan, panic ensued as residents rushed to buy food when news spread online, the local government canceled the travel ban

In the US, teens are posting memes and more serious updates

In the US, there has been a variety of content posted to social media platforms, like TikTok, amid the virus that started in Wuhan. In a video viewed more than 3.4 million times by TikTok user @freshlilyli, a clearly distraught woman in California shares information from her family members in China. 

“I’m sharing the news with you guys here in California, but I’ve been on the phone with my family since last night,” she said in the video that has more than 515,000 likes. “They’re in Hubei – that’s where I’m from, and some of my family are doctors who are working in the hospital right now. The whole city – all the hospitals are full, and some of the medical supplies are running out. It’s a really dangerous working environment. I’m terribly worried about all my family and friends. Please wear a mask if you’re going anywhere in public – be safe.” 

Other videos on the platform purport to show the abandoned streets in Wuhan, or a patient in China that has been infected by the virus. It’s hard to verify the legitimacy of these videos, though, as TikTok isn’t available to users in China.  

Medical experts in the US have also taken to the platform to explain the virus, calm fears about its spread, or prevent tips to limit spread. Some have specifically debunked misinformation that has spread online. 

Many teens, on the other hand, reacted to the news of the spreading virus in the same way they have to other bad news (like a potential World War III), by joking about it and making memes. 

Read more: 

The outbreaks of both the Wuhan coronavirus and SARS likely started in Chinese wet markets. Photos show what the markets look like.

The flu is a far bigger threat to most people in the US than the Wuhan coronavirus. Here’s why.

Experts say the Wuhan coronavirus is more contagious but less deadly than SARS so far. Here’s how the 2 outbreaks compare.

Experts think the Wuhan coronavirus jumped from bats to snakes to people. Bats have been the source of at least 4 pandemics.

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