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Some Kid on TikTok Spread a Hoax About World Health Crises for Clout

Plenty of people believed the stunt thanks to surging coronavirus fears – which the video's creator later said was his Big Point About Society, though most viewers probably missed that part.

by Katie Way
31 January 2020, 8:30am

Photo by Kwanchai Lerttanapunyapor via Getty Images

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

“This is from Patient Zero, the one that we treated yesterday… I haven’t opened it yet, but I’m going to get it out on some paper and show you guys,” said a man in a white coat in a viral Tiktok. “But… that doesn’t look right to me. Something’s not good about that blood.” The man proceeded to drip two different “blood samples” on napkins hand-labeled “normal” and “Patient Zero.” The former left the napkin stained red, while the latter left behind the deep magenta tint of a raspberry popsicle. “Ah, there’s a clear difference there, folks. Stay tuned for part three, I’m going to keep testing.”

The video has since been shared to Twitter, with the caption “This shit is not a joke. Carry your hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Please cover yo fucking mouth,” strongly implying that the footage is real and reiterating the advice widely popularized for curbing the spread of the flu... and the new coronavirus. The video is, however, decidedly fake, something its creator has since explained. “I did it for a school project on how easy it is to go viral if you know what people will feed off of,” the apparent creator wrote. “I tagged satire in the description and said it was fake. People don't see that though. They are quick to believe and judge.”

There are a lot of signs that the video isn’t real. From the horror-movie filter applied to the “scientist’s” eyes in the first few seconds of the video to the idea that putting loose blood on a napkin could constitute some kind of laboratory test, the whole thing has a distinct r/NoSleep, Creepypasta vibe. But given the current climate of rampant racism and conspiracy-peddling, now is distinctly not the moment for this 28 Days Later knockoff. The fact that medical professionals also seem to love Tiktok, to the point of posting videos where they preach abstinence and accuse patients of “faking” illnesses, doesn’t help either.

Unfortunately, medical misinformation can do serious damage, whether or not we personally believe it—according to experts, the medical misinformation spread by social media, politicians, and celebrities can have a pronounced negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship, primarily when it comes to a patient’s willingness to accept medical advice.

Mikhail Varshavski, a New Jersey-based family medicine doctor who also runs a Youtube channel as “Doctor Mike,” called out the Tiktok for stoking coronavirus-related fears under the guise of humor. “Medical misinformation is inherently dangerous as it can cause direct and indirect harm to those who are exposed to it,” Varshavski told VICE. “In a case like this surrounding a possible pandemic, it has the possibility of inciting panic and hysteria, which makes it an even worse offense in my eyes.”

He also suggested that, when confronted with a possible piece of medical misinformation, social media users confirm the facts via a verified source before sharing. “Turn to trusted sources like the CDC, WHO, NIH, or [your] local department of health,” he said. “A trusted medical professional like a primary doctor would also be appropriate.”

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