From fake Coachella posters and deepfake videos to Trump tweets and clout-chasing tragedy porn, there is no shortage of stuff on the internet trying to convince you of things that aren’t true. But an Australia-focused viral misinformation post about the coronavirus, packed with errors, typos, and blatantly made-up details, is still being shared by individuals and business pages on social media despite being both debunked and widely mocked.
The text post, which has been copied and shared on Facebook as well as harder-to-track Instagram Stories, claims “Corna’s disease” is “starting to spread in the greater Sydney region,” and warns of “contiminated [sic] products” (the spelling mistake is replicated in most iterations of the text).
The post then lists a random collection of popular Asian foods supposedly made in “neighbouring areas” to Wuhan— the Chinese city where the current virus originated — and are thus claimed to contain “traces of corona’s disease.” These foods include wagyu beef and Yakult (which are Japanese), Nongshim Onion Ring snacks (Korean), Mi Goreng instant noodles (Indonesian), Lipton peach-flavoured iced tea (made and bottled all over the world), fortune cookies, two varieties of rice, and Red Bull (both “Chinese” and “normal”).
Even more bizarrely, it claims the “bureau of diseasology parramatta” lists some “areas which people with corona’s disease have visited and contaminated,” proven by “positive readings” in the air near train stations. A couple of the Western Sydney suburbs listed have large populations of people who are of Chinese (or Vietnamese) birth or descent. The Sydney suburb of Parramatta is not home to a “Bureau of Diseasology,” however, as it does not exist.
The post lists a random collection of popular Asian foods claimed to contain “traces of corona’s disease”
The name for study of diseases is actually epidemiology — and epidemiologists currently advise that coronavirus has not been proven to be transmitted by contaminated food or air, but rather by respiratory droplets (e.g. sneezing or coughing).
The post has been repeatedly debunked by the (actually real) New South Wales Department of Health throughout the course of Tuesday — with the existence of the mysterious Bureau specifically denied — but it was still being shared on social media as of at least 5 p.m. Sydney time. In some versions, extra suburbs had been added to the list of “contaminated” areas.
Fake news and misinformation around the coronavirus is wild. Childcare centres are sharing a post claiming wagyu beef and mi goreng could have traces of the virus and that the “bureau of diseasology Parramatta” is testing the air. Everyone knows that burea relocated to Ryde. pic.twitter.com/FO3Nbd5z5L
— Kevin Nguyen (@cog_ink) January 28, 2020
1/2 @NSWHealth has been made aware of a social media post that is being widely circulated warning people to not consume certain foods or visit certain locations in Sydney.
This post has not originated from NSW Health or any related entity… pic.twitter.com/GcvM4aG4ga
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) January 28, 2020
Four of the five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia are in the state of NSW, and as most schools began classes on Tuesday, parents of children who have recently been to China were encouraged to keep their kids home until two weeks from their return date. At least one Sydney council also postponed its Lunar New Year celebrations over the previous weekend out of concern over the virus’ spread. And lines formed outside pharmacies in the Sydney CBD, as Sydneysiders queued to buy face masks. (Not everyone has invested yet, despite the ongoing bushfire smoke.)
Meanwhile, “Department of Diseasology” trended in Australia on Tuesday afternoon, as Twitter users made jokes and memes about the post.
The text’s scattershot, racist targeting of widely popular Asian snack foods and disdain for spellcheck give it a shitpost-level absurdity — it’s hard to believe anyone meant it to be taken seriously, let alone succeeded.
But its sloppy phrasing might not be a dead giveaway for someone whose English isn’t strong — and it’s also powered by racist stereotypes about Asian food, people, and standards of hygiene.
Amid the deaths in China and the documented spread of the virus to a handful of other countries, East Asian people are reporting being profiled and avoided on public transport, recalling similar racism experienced during the SARS outbreak.
The reason Western coverage of the coronavirus is so racist is bc it feeds orientalizing narratives of Chinese people as a dirty, diseased orientals and provides an excuse for increased Western aggression & “containment” of China as well as suspicion of Chinese in Western nations
— Muqing (@muqingmq) January 26, 2020
Some of the earliest iterations of the post spotted by Mashable have already vanished from Facebook, where it seems to have originated, but it persists nonetheless. Whether its intent was earnest or not, misinformation like this feeds, and feeds off, racial profiling, ignorance, and fear. As with the arson conspiracy theories and misinformation that thrived once the Australian bushfires hit international headlines, it’s likely this misinfo will continue to spread and mutate throughout the internet despite best efforts to debunk it.
As always, take officially-recommended precautions as necessary – and be sure to double check your sources before sharing information on social media.