Oi! Stop Forwarding Leh: A COVID-19 Infodemic Rant
STORY: Sim Ding En
22 April 2020
Before COVID-19, I thought I had it bad when it came to receiving forwarded health "advisories" and "tips" from well-meaning boomers.
You know, the reductive sort of messages that say nothing. Like an image of supposed "natural painkillers": Garlic for earache, turmeric for chronic pain, pineapple for arthritis. Or an image of things that can cleanse the liver: (surprise, surprise) garlic, turmeric, pineapple.
It's the same image of fruit and vegetables repurposed a billion times to fool aunties and uncles with half-truths and oversimplified science. It's so obvious and yet, they fall for it, and forward it using their weapon - sorry, channel - of choice: WhatsApp group chats.
Is there some kind of Boomer Task Force that needs to meet a KPI of 25 forwarded WhatsApp messages a day?
Is it cuz they were brought up in an era of scare tactics? "If you don't eat this, you will DIE!" "If you don't do this, mata will come and catch you, and you will DIE!" "If you don't read this message and reply and say thank you, I will tell my other friends how badly brought up you are, and you will DIE!"
Tell lor! It's not gonna work anymore leh, aunty. I know how science works. Also, I can just block you.
And then COVID-19 happened.
Not only did it send boomers into a wave of panic, it led to a dangerous surge in fake news and rumours as they (among others) hit "Forward" with all the fervour of a PS4 button masher.
Even the World Health Organization warned against a coronavirus "infodemic" - an epidemic of too much information - and dedicated a whole webpage on their site to busting COVID-19 myths.
My WhatsApp exploded and has been exploding since. I mean, kee chiu if you've ever received ridiculous WhatsApp messages like this:
• Director Zhenxing informed that the Wuhan virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed in a temperature of 26-27 degrees. So drink plenty of hot water.
• According to research professor advice: during this winter; those with heating system in the house , should on the system to keep the indoor temperature above 20’C. Don’t worry about wastage of electricity. Because the coronavirus can’t survive Long in the warm environment.
• Eat bananas and gargling with salt water can prevent coronavirus.
• Keeping an onions close to u helps to kill coronavirus.
Like, what the–?!
If it's not the onions making your eyes water, it's probably the WTF-ness of such content and the super jialat grammar (although that's a pretty good sign that the "advice" isn't legit).
Since last year, WhatsApp limited the number of forwarded messages to only five individuals or groups at any one time, down from an earlier limit of 20. Anything forwarded more than five times is labelled by the app.
But haiyah, TBH it hasn't really helped lah.
If you have boomer-colleagues like I do, you'll probably know the latest pain of being forwarded COVID-19 memes, links, pictures and videos like there's no virus-free tomorrow, and bombarded with boomer-humour (COVID-19 Edition; all not funny one). Every day. At least once. Thrice or more if that boomer is very free. And they usually are.
Seriously, boomer. I saw this meme already. In the four other group chats that we're both in, that you forwarded to simultaneously!!!
I figure boomers do this for a number of reasons:
1) Sharing is caring: Yes, yes, we know it comes from a good place. But we also feel that the underlying sentiment is: "I got share with all of you ah. Dun say I neh do my duty as a caring aunty/parent/colleague/friend."
2) They only hear the good stuff: "Strawberries prevent ageing! I don't care about all the boring science. Strawberries prevent ageing!"
3) The word "research" and "scientist" means it's true: Boomers came from that era, when everything vaguely news-like was taken as the gospel truth. No one questioned it. No one thought like a journalist. Everyone believed everything.
4) They have nothing to lose: Especially when it is funny (to them), or it has to do with consuming fruits and vegetables, and drinking warm water. ("Even if you don't have the virus, they're good for you ok!")
5) They know something you don't (or they think you don't): It gives them the licence to say, "You heard it from me, hor. ME. I sent it. I'm the clever/funny one. You dunno anything."
So, how to deal with this, then? Especially when actual, important messages (like the work-related ones) get buried in all this forwarded mayhem? And these are chat groups which you can't exit, and, unlike email, sorry, no "Unsubscribe" button.
Three simple steps: Remind them that Gov.sg is the most reliable source of COVID-19-related information. Then, go to your WhatsApp settings. Finally, turn off notifications for group chats.
Then enjoy the silence and I-G-N-O-R-E.
Cuz if it’s really something important and you don't respond, they’ll call or DM you. If they don't do either, it wasn't important. 😌
Now, don't go mass-forwarding this ah.
Wait people call you boomer.