Social media offers incredible platforms to share information and spread awareness. However, viral value of a particular piece of information is independent of its validity. This gives hoaxers an opportunity to spread rumours and gain popularity on social media. Within minutes of sharing, the network of these hoax messages becomes so strong and widespread that it becomes difficult to trace its origin.
Further, these messages, along with pictures and fake quotes, are crafted in such a way that they appear real to readers, compelling them to share without giving another thought. Between WhatsApp forwards, Facebook picture posts and auto e-mails, it becomes difficult for readers to separate correct and valid information from spurious and fake ones. So here’s an explanation to some of the most popular rumours on social media that were believed.
No.1: Cadbury chocolates tested positive for Ebola: Since the day WHO declared Ebola as an international emergency, the deadly disease actually gained viral value on social media. Apart from the latest updates on Ebola death toll in West African countries, the Internet was flooded with various silly rumours about the disease, generating panic among people. This particular message, shared on WhatsApp, claimed that 17 samples of Cadbury were tested positive for Ebola.
Fact Check: Neither can Ebola survive outside a living host nor can it be spread through modes other than body fluids and direct contact. Yet, this message was shared and many people believed it. The only connection between Ebola and chocolates is the fact that the cocoa industry in Africa may suffer a bit due to loss of workers who died of Ebola infection.
No.2: Tulsi leaves can save you from Ebola: Ebola gained more attention in India after the reports of the first Ebola suspect in India. Since that day, several messages about Ebola in India have been shared, but the weirdest of the lot was that Ebola can be prevented and cured with tulsi. The message that got shared read: ‘Guys, tulsi leaves are good for the human immune system so this is a precaution to save u from the ebola virus…’
Fact Check: Sure, Ayurveda and herbal medicine could be promising in discovering Ebola treatment but as of now there is no evidence proving the claim. Tulsi is one of the most popular natural remedies in India, used for relieving cough and cold and keeping infections at bay. Yes, the leaves of tulsi are good for building immunity but they cannot confer protection against Ebola.
No.3: Kurkure contains plastic and can cause cancer: This rumour was actually spread through a video that was uploaded in 2010 on YouTube. The video claims that Kurkure actually contains plastic, demonstrating that it burns due to the presence of plastic in it.
Fact: Kurkure, like any other snack item, contains edible ingredients loaded with carbohydrates and fat. Ideally, any other item that contains carbohydrates and oil will burn the same way as shown in the video. Yet people believed this rumour and even tried burning Kurkure sticks, instead of eating them.
No.4: Pepsi/Frooti/Coca Cola is contaminated with HIV: It all started with this long message marked as important and written in all caps: ‘IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM DELHI POLICE…. 4 NEXT FEW DAYS DNT DRINK ANY PRODUCT FROM PEPSI, TROPICANA JUICE SLICE, 7UP, COCA COLA, ETC. , AS A WORKER FROM D COMPANY HAS ADDED HIS BLOOD CONTAMINATED WIT AIDS. Watch NDTV. Plz Forward this message to every 1 u care 4 plz.’ The message went viral in 2011 and still stands among the few unbelievable messages that were actually believed by millions.
Fact: Food contamination is possible during manufacturing and processing but contamination with deadly viruses like HIV is something totally baseless. Like Ebola, HIV too cannot survive in inanimate items and cannot be spread by consuming food items. To clear the rumours, later, the CDC also confirmed that HIV cannot spread through food products or beverages.
No.5: Woman gets breast implant for fame: This is a recent rumour that is still being shared on Facebook. According to the post, the woman in the picture got a breast implant done to become a reality TV star. The fact that the story also appeared on Daily Mail and The Huffington Post made the rumour more believable. While there are still speculations about whether or not it is a hoax, a few sites revealed that the hoaxer actually used homemade material to create an implant, and clicked pictures wearing it to gain popularity.
No.6: KFC burgers contain meat of mutant chickens: This is the most hilarious rumour so far. A picture showing a weirdly photo-shopped chicken, which the hoaxers claim was a mutant chicken used to make burgers at KFC, was shared on Facebook and Twitter. Further, messages shared with these pictures also claimed that these chickens were treated brutally. Apparently, the chickens were kept alive by inserting tubes into their bodies to extract blood and nutrients from them. A few pictures also showed that these chickens didn’t have beaks, feathers and feet. These pictures in different versions were all over e-mail and WhatsApp forwards.
Fact: The thought that KFC actually has a farm of mutant chickens itself is beyond belief. Further, it would be nonsensical to assume that the food chain has all the time in the world to breed genetically modified chickens and torture them before cooking their meat to serve them to consumers. KFC repeatedly denied the rumour saying they were baseless and absurd.
No.7: McDonald’s burgers contain human flesh: The most absurd of all rumours is the one that claims to have found human flesh in the McDonald’s meat factory. A part of the long hoax message read: ‘Now, inspectors have allegedly found human meat and horse meat in the freezer’s [sic] of an Oklahoma City McDonald’s meat factory. Human meat was also recovered in several trucks that were on their way to deliver the patties to the restaurants.’
Fact: The rumour actually originated on the website Huzlers, deemed to be a website that attracts people by spreading hoax messages. Further, McDonald’s also clarified the rumour, explaining that the burgers are absolutely safe to consume.
No.8: MAGGI contains wax that can cause cancer: MAGGI, too, like other brands was caught in the rumour storm. The message that begins with the warning ‘Beware Maggi Lovers’ explains the so-called correct way of cooking the noodles. According to this rumour, boiling MAGGI noodles into a vessel containing masala causes Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG) to change its molecular structure and convert itself into a highly toxic compound that can cause cancer. Also, the message ends with the correct procedure to cook MAGGI in order to get rid of the wax coated on the noodles that make them stick together.
Fact: This entire message was scrutinised on the basis of facts in an official statement released by MAGGI. Contrary to what the message says, the statement revealed that MAGGI does not contain wax or MSG in any form. It also clarified that consumers should continue to use the procedure printed on the pack and that they don’t need to drain the water.
No.9: Man pricks random people with HIV infected needle: This rumour was spread through messages and e-mails. It said that a man who was detected with HIV got frustrated and randomly began to prick people with a syringe or needle that he contaminated by pricking himself first. Further, there are several variations of this message that were doing the rounds. One of the variations claimed that a woman instead of a man was diagnosed with HIV and was randomly infecting women getting into crowded second-class compartments of Mumbai local trains.
Fact: This could be believable for the first time when you read it. But thankfully, nobody has ever reported to have come across such a person roaming around with needles and syringes to spread the disease to others.
No.10: Fish pedicure spreads HIV: Today, there are a lot of salons that offer ‘fish pedicure.’ This spa treatment involves feet immersion into a water tank containing Garra rufa fish, also called doctor fish. Rumour of the foot spa treatment spreading HIV went viral after Daily Mail and the Sun alarmed the readers about Health Protection Agency’s warning against spread of HIV and hepatitis through fishes.
Fact: The fish used for this treatment actually nibbles-off dead skin on your feet. It does not bite you to cause bleeding. In fact, the fish has been used for treatment of several skin conditions since a long time. Further, even if a person has some cuts or bruises on the feet, virus transmission is unlikely because it cannot survive on the mouth of the fish. Also, HIV virus is not known to infect fishes, which debunks the rumour quite clearly.
No.11: Did death forget the 179 year old man: Recently, a post on Facebook claimed to have discovered a 179 year old Indian man named Mashashta Murasi. The rumour says that the man is a retired cobbler who lives in North India. It was the catchy headline ‘death has forgotten this man,’ that made this fake news reach millions.
Fact: This particular story was published on the fake news website called World News Daily Report. The Guinness World Records recognises Jeanne Louise Calment (122 years old) as the oldest person and if this man actually is still alive for 179 years, he would have made to the records much before Calment did.
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