Two people wearing masks on the London Underground. Coronavirus cases across the world has today topped 100,000 and the Uk's Chief Scientific adviser has warned that it has now become a 'global epidemic'.Coronavirus -06 03 2020

Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It’s also, unofficially, social media fodder.

Misinformation and memes tinged with xenophobia abound — and intentionally panic-inducing posts — are making it hard for some to distinguish between fact and fiction. Last week, James Nord, founder and chief executive officer of influencer marketing platform Fohr, came across a tweet claiming that hand sanitizer is worthless in mitigating the spread of coronavirus. Common sense — and the fact that alcohol has been used to sterilize germs since the late 1800s —  would say otherwise, and yet, numbers don’t lie: The post had racked up 180,000 retweets, according to Nord.

Fact-checking is hardly a common practice among social media users — the platforms are built for speed, not thoughtful and careful consideration by their billions of users — and some are seizing the opportunity to produce #CoronavirusContent. But COVID-19, which has killed more than 6,500 people globally, carries higher stakes than a throwback Thursday or TikTok dance challenge.

In short, the COVID-19 social media flex is raising questions of morality.

“There aren’t many things that the whole world collectively is thinking about every day and interested in,” Nord said. “It has this unifying effect around people’s attention because everyone in some way is thinking about [coronavirus]. It makes that content so shareable — and misinformation so dangerous.”

People often come together on social platforms to share and receive information about a variety of topics and engage with one another. In recent days, trending hashtags such as #QuarantineAndChill and #CancelEverythingNow, both of which have racked up tens of thousands of tweets, have emerged. As these and other trending topics spread, they are giving way to distasteful, even cruel posts. The ever-churning meme machine is targeting Asian people in particular, with false information that’s causing some influencers to face online slander.

Tina Craig, the influencer-entrepreneur known as @bagsnob on Instagram, said she has “never faced blatant racism like this in my entire life.”

“I saw this post that said, ‘Don’t worry, the coronavirus won’t last long. It was made in China,'” Craig said. “People thought it was funny. I’m like, people are dying, terrified for their lives. Would you say that about cancer?”

Craig, who has 457,000 followers, has started incorporating coronavirus content into her social media strategy, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as resources. A post she shared detailing what to do during the coronavirus outbreak quickly became one of her most-liked posts, she said, demonstrating a demand for and interest in this content from social media users — many of whom are getting vital information about the virus on social media.

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We are all concerned about Coronavirus but that doesn’t mean we stop living our best lives or traveling (domestically at least). Instead, let’s all take reasonable pre-cautions: 1️⃣ WASH YOUR HANDS- and don’t shake hands (this is my pet peeve, I prefer bowing like the Japanese so please don’t reach for my hand 🙅🏻‍♀️when we meet, let’s just bow 😂 ). Wash your hands often & for 20 seconds (I hum Twinkle twinkle ⭐️ little star- it’s around 20 seconds 😊) . 2️⃣ AVOID TOUCHING YOUR EYES, NOSE OR MOUTH- I’ve preached this for years, but mainly to help you keep your mug flawless. I try not to touch my face once I’ve left my house. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. 3️⃣ Maintain social distance- if someone is coughing near you, it’s fine to maintain social distance (3 feet) but don’t go into an anti-Asian rant. And if you’re the one coughing or sneezing, for God’s sake cover your mouth (bent elbow or tissue). . 4️⃣ Stay aware but don’t get hysterical. For most healthy people, Coronavirus is not unlike any other respiratory virus. If you feel sick, seek medical attention immediately. 5️⃣ Be informed: so far, 75% of cases have been reported to be mild. Death rate from Coronavirus is at 2% in China with average age in the 70s (.01% mortality rate globally) . Coronavirus appears to be far less deadly than MERS (30% death rate) and SARS (10% death rate). . 6️⃣ Don’t panic! You can stock your pantry with extra non-perishable food and medical supplies but don’t go crazy and don’t be wasteful. Medial face masks are not proven to prevent contracting the virus and may actually give you a false sense of security thus becoming careless with the above tips. So save your money and stop hoarding face masks (a woman recently bragged to me she has 200 face masks stashed in her house- WTF?!)! There are actual sick people who can’t find nor afford face masks. If you’re that hoarder- please donate your stash. Last but not least, DON’T BE RACIST. You can still eat at your fave Chinese restaurants! Ok that’s it for now. (photo at a friend’s stunning home above the city of Angels last week)

A post shared by Tina Craig (@bagsnob) on

Fashion influencer Vanessa Hong said while she was in Paris for fashion week, Uber drivers canceled rides on her Asian friends “for no reason at all.”

“The xenophobia, I address that openly in my [Instagram] Stories and my Instagram page,” said Hong, who has 642,000 followers. “I was on this boat before where people were like, ‘I don’t want to make this political.’ But whenever has anything not been political?…To compartmentalize your digital self to one box and your true self in another seems discordant with where the times are moving.”

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#Repost @31philliplim ・・・ The coronavirus is not a foreign threat, but a human one. Racism and xenophobia targeted at Asian communities will not protect us from a virus that does not discriminate based on race, gender, or color. Now, more than ever, we must use our collective voices to celebrate the courage and resilience of those most deeply affected, our awareness to negate untruths fueled by ignorance, and our empathy to dismantle a growing hatred more detrimental than any disease. We will not be a witness to abuse. We will continue to stay vocal and support marginalized communities and businesses, we will be an ally in the face of hostility and abhorrence, and we will be relentless in our fight for humanity. Please join us to spread love, unity, and community. #LoveUnityCommunity #tracystribeof31

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Nord, Craig and Hong are now trying to figure out how to keep influencer businesses going amid a worldwide health crisis. Nord estimated that “5 percent, if not less” of his clients’ campaigns have either been shifted or postponed. (Fohr works with an influencer pool of more than 90,000.)

“We’re also prepared and would not be hugely surprised if that number dramatically increased,” he said. “If it comes to a place where there are mass quarantines and people are staying in their apartments, we’re a digital advertising [agency]. People don’t have to leave their apartments to create the ads.”

Craig said in a follow-up e-mail that her personal business has not yet been impacted by the virus.

“In fact, I’ve actually received more requests for brand partnerships than usual this last week,” she wrote.

Hong said she is rethinking her social media approach and is abstaining from sharing backlogged fashion month content out of respect for the gravity of the virus. Beyond reconsidering her approach to posting, Hong said she may cut back on photo shoots that require crew members to touch her face and stand in close proximity.

“I made a decision that for my health and also the community of people in my life, I’m choosing no longer to do in-person meetings, I’m not going to be doing any large events or even small events,” she said.

“We live in the era of the re-poster,” continued Hong. “So many influencers are ready to dispense information and I’ve seen other influencers dispensing misinformation or recommending or reposting things. We need to be responsible with the power we all have, whether you have 10 followers or 10 million followers.”

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