There has been a lot of misinformation spread recently about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have we had to wade through numerous conspiracy theories, but we’ve also had to navigate misinformation that comes from pandemic-related phishing and scam attempts.
It’s easy to get caught up in these types of disinformation campaigns. When dealing with a relatively unfamiliar virus, we’re learning on our feet — which means the information is constantly evolving. That makes it tough to decipher real info from hoaxes and conspiracies. Need guidance? This online game can help you spot COVID-19 conspiracies.
In fact, there are a couple of COVID-related hoaxes and conspiracy theories going around as we speak. These are more than just your average disinformation campaign, though. They could also be dangerous to your gadgets and are spreading on popular apps. Here’s how you can avoid falling for these fake campaigns.
Watch out for these fast-spreading COVID-19 hoaxes
Two different hoaxes are spreading through popular apps right now. The first is a COVID-related hoax using WhatsApp video messaging to spread the fake news that people could be hit by a “hack” that will take over your phone.
The WhatsApp COVID hoax
Here’s how it works. Victims are sent messages through WhatsApp warning they’re going to receive a video file called “Argentina is doing it.” While vague, that impending video file is supposedly related to Argentina’s response to Covid-19. The message warns that if the video is open or looked at, it will take over your phone in 10 seconds.
That video is never received, though. It’s unclear whether the video even exists, but what is clear is that the messages are just a hoax. Snopes even debunked this type of hoax back in July 2020, but the fake campaign is still making the rounds.
There are several variations of the message, but it always includes Argentina. Some of these messages also tie in CNN, stating that the national news outlet has reported on the malware scheme or video to try and give the message credibility.
Here’s one recent example of this type of hoax message:
“They are going to start circulating a video on WhatsApp that shows how the Covid19 curve is flattening in Argentina,” reads one example. “The file is called ‘Argentina is doing it,’ do not open it or see it, it hacks your phone in 10 seconds and it cannot be stopped in any way. Pass the information on to your family and friends.”
According to Snopes, this hoax can be chalked up to a high-tech equivalent of chain letters that used to be passed around. There is no threat to your device if you receive it. However, if it goes viral, it could turn into a malware distribution tool over time.
Related: A Facebook hoax is spreading about contact tracing; don’t fall for it
The COVID vaccine conspiracy theory
The other hoax making the rounds is a diagram with a message telling people that there’s a 5G chip hidden in the new COVID-19 vaccine. This hoax has gone viral, and if you see it being shared, you need to know the message is fake.
This new conspiracy theory is based on a couple of other conspiracy theories making the rounds. The first is that the coronavirus vaccine will secretly implant people with microchip tracking devices, which is obviously not true.
The next is about the dangers of 5G broadband cellular networks. Tap or click here for a deep dive into 5G conspiracy theories.
When those two are combined, you get this: a crazy conspiracy theory that’s spreading on all social media platforms and warns people not to get the COVID vaccine. If they do, it says, they’ll be secretly injected with a COVID 5G chip that will track your every move.
The message even offers an image of the “COVID 5G Chip Diagram” to try and add credibility to the unfounded information.
Only problem? That’s not a COVID 5G microchip diagram. It’s actually a diagram for a guitar pedal — or a schematic of a circuit for a BOSS MT-2 Metal Zone electric guitar pedal, to be exact.
Despite the obvious issues with this message, some are still buying into it. The hoax has already spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook.
What to do if you see either of these messages
If you come across the chip diagram above on social media, you can rest assured that there is no truth to it. There is no COVID 5G microchip being inserted into your arm when you get vaccinated. It’s false information, and it’s a little wacky — even by conspiracy theory standards.
There’s no immediate danger in receiving this message, but you may want to flag it on Twitter or Facebook so the social media platforms can handle it. Don’t share it, though. Others may not know it’s a hoax.
If you receive the Argentina message on WhatsApp, it’s probably best to delete it. You can take steps to protect yourself from being hacked, but there’s almost no likelihood that you’ll be hacked via that message.
To protect yourself from being hacked via WhatsApp messages, go into your settings and turn off the option to automatically download files, photos, and videos sent to your device. You’ll have to choose what to download after changing this setting, but it’s worth the hassle.
And, as with anything else, don’t click on links from unknown parties. Don’t click on any unexpected links from people you know, either. Check with the sender first to make sure it’s something they actually sent. There’s always a chance they were hacked, which could be why you’re receiving unsolicited downloads to your device.