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Watchet, Somerset, UK. 6th April 2020 23:28

Tonight we have been informed that PM Boris Johnson has been put in Intensive Care at the hospital due to his condition deteriorating. I am diametrically opposed to Boris’ ideology but I wish him the very best in his recovery.

Questions had been asked in previous days about his condition and the answers coming from 10 Downing St. were that he was getting better. It sounds as if the public has been misinformed.

This got me thinking about viruses, a current topic, but not the pathological kind but informational ones.

My understanding of viruses is that they are not really alive. They are described as organisms on the edge of life. They are holders of genetic code which has to unravel inside a host. Viruses need the living cells of another organism to replicate and thrive and then infect other individuals of that species and so on.

Apparently only 1% of viruses are pathogens which harm their host. A lot of them don’t cause any harm and there are even some which are beneficial to their host, such as the Hepatitis G virus which can protect its host from AIDS.

In regards to informational viruses, there are similarities with biological viruses. Let’s clear up what I mean by an informational viruses.

I first came upon this idea in the brilliant 1992 Cyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson describes all information as code which needs to pass on from one person to another to live. Once inside a person, it will replicate and mutate to adapt to different contexts. Some examples of informational viruses are languages, ideologies, religions, jokes, urban myths, fashion trends, behaviours, etc.

I have been thinking about this type of viruses lately, in light of our current situation with COVID-19. And I think that it is really important to observe how information is being ‘transmitted’ between people and how groups become ‘infected’ with rumours of fake news.

Let’s look at the bad stuff first: since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been lots of rumours and false information, especially spread through social media. When it to comes the spread of false informationFacebook and Twitter are the modern equivalent of ships full of rats carrying the Bubonic arriving at the port of Venice in the 14th Century, or a brothel full of syphilitic prostitutes in 15th Century Paris. The comparisons are apt methinks.

The internet is an information superhighway and, like bloodstream, it spreads viral information throughout the world. Sadly, that information often comes form false and unreliable sources, often with manipulative and nefarious intents. We all know the damage that anti-vaxxers have caused over the years. Or the influence that misinformation coming from Russia has had in recent electoral processes everywhere.

In the current crisis, we have seen how quickly anxiety about food shortages spread and how that fuelled the panic buying hysteria of the early days. It has also spread nasty rumours about certain people and their behaviour. For example, in Spain, dog walkers and other passers-by have been heckled from windows and balconies because some people believed rumours that some were cheating the lockdown restrictions. At its worst, this nastiness is directed at minorities or those who are vulnerable such as people with autism or learning difficulties.

We have to be very wary of rumours around symptoms, cures, remedies, etc. In the Middle Ages people believed that drinking the blood of a newborn child was a cure against the plague. We have somewhat moved on from that but the principle still holds. It was Winston Churchill, a hero of Boris, who said that lies spread a lot faster than the truth.

In regards to positive spread of viral information, we have the clapping for the emergency services throughout Europe; singing in balconies in Italy; various hilarious jokes and memes and the #stayathome message which is slowly but surely sinking in.

I think that the way that Downing Street has handled Boris Johnson’s health reports risks undermining trust in the message coming form the government. In these times, clear, honest, consistent and reliable information is the antidote/vaccine which we require to flatten the curve of false viral information which can so easily spread and infect a large amount of people in our society. This is no joke (another form of viral information), it needs to be taken very seriously. The consequences of people not believing vital information can have dire consequences. Fact check your information before sharing it. We can all do our bit. Treat information the same way that you treat the other infections. The internet equivalent of #washyourhands is #checkyourfacts

Good night all

OneLove OneHeart

Tonight’s choice of music is by The Prodigy: Poison

World-wide confirmed cases: 1,345,048

World-wide deaths: 74,476

World-wide recovered: 276,259

UK confirmed cases: 52,279

UK deaths: 5,373

UK recovered: 287

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