Genesis of hoax message

Dr KK Aggarwal

Recipient of Padma Shri

A message advising against the use of paracetamol P/500 because it contained a virus “Machupo” is viral on social media. This message came up one year back and is still circulating in the media.

The Machupo virus causes a hemorrhagic fever, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, which is included in the differential diagnosis of hemorrhagic fevers. Hemorrhagic fevers may present with jaundice such as Congo hemorrhagic fever, Yellow fever, or they can present without jaundice, such as dengue hemorrhagic fever and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever.

Bolivian hemorrhagic fever is also known as black typhus or Ordog Fever. It is a highly lethal disease.

The National Drug Authority issued a clarification saying that the story of P/500 having a virus “Machupo” is false and incorrect. It said that the Machupo virus spreads mainly via spray transmission of dust particles from the feces and urine of infected rodents. The said viruses like many others cannot survive the paracetamol tablets manufacturing process.

The “100th monkey phenomenon” can explain the genesis of hoax messages and why they spread so virally and linger on amongst the masses.

“Long time back there was a monkey called Emo in a far off village in Japan. Monkeys at that time used to eat apples lying in the gardens full of dust. One day Emo by mistake washed the apple in the pond before eating. From then onwards he washed every apple he ate. The message went from one monkey to the second monkey and then to the third and so on. Many monkeys started washing apples before eating. After sometime, some neighboring monkeys from other villages also started washing their apples before eating. The day the 100th monkey washed the apple and ate it, a strange phenomenon was observed all over the country. Monkeys all over the country started washing apples before eating. The critical mass in that area therefore was 100. Once the critical mass was achieved, the information spread like wildfire to each and every monkey and everybody started washing apples before eating.”

For a wave to spread across the entire nation, or for a hoax message to go viral, it must cover one percent of the population. This critical mass of one percent, once achieved, is the reason why ideas and movements spontaneously spread among the general population. And, people start believing them to be true.

Paracetamol is a drug, which is used in almost every household and is a well-recognized name. Hence, achieving the critical mass of 1% was not difficult in this case. Such messages generate fear and apprehension, which may be baseless.

Such hoax messages should be refuted. But to counter such a viral message, at least 2% population should get the message that the earlier message is a hoax. Govt., NGOs, Associations and pharmaceutical industry should come together to dispel such hoax messages circulating as ‘chain messages’ via social media in the interest of the general public.

Spreading such hoax messages should be made a punishable offence.

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