Honesty is important any time a crisis is underway. Unnecessary panic and scaremongering may be good for getting attention, but all it does is leave people with bad information that can get them in trouble. It’s the reason you’re not supposed to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater.
And now, with the COVID-19 coronavirus making its way around the globe, misinformation and fake news are running rampant on nearly every social media platform. Tap or click to see if you can tell which coronavirus stories are real or fake.
Some hucksters are using coronavirus fears to shill quack medical cures and products, while others are content with peddling fake stories. But one wannabe comedian took his grift a bit too far with a prank that involved an unwilling audience on a plane. Here’s how it unfolded.
Unfunny man makes unfunny joke
A self-proclaimed “performance artist” is responsible for a prank gone wrong that caused an airplane to turn itself around mid-flight.
Passengers were traveling from Canada to Jamaica, and about two hours into the flight, aspiring social media star James Potok stood up and loudly announced the following:
“Can I have everybody’s attention, I just came back from the Hunan… the capital of the coronavirus… I’m not feeling too well. Thank you.”
Needless to say, as safety is a priority for airline employees, the staff took his “joke” completely seriously. Airline staff immediately put him in a mask and gloves, then informed the 243 people on board that the plane would be returning to Canada for an emergency landing.
Passenger and Twitter user Gerald Frank posted a now-viral clip from the flight showing Potok being escorted from coach.
WestJet flight to Jamaica was turned around halfway there when a 29 year old man announced that he had the Corona Virus … It appears to be a prank …250 passengers were standed in Toronto as well as others in Montego Bay , Jamaica pic.twitter.com/obscZav4FJ— Gerald Frank (@drgeraldfg) February 4, 2020
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes
Once the plane was on the ground, Potok realized yelling, “Virus!” on a crowded plane may not have been the smartest idea. The airport staff immediately quarantined and inspected him for symptoms.
Upon his release, he was immediately arrested and charged for mischief and breach of recognizance (these are apparently crimes in Canada).
Now, he’s scheduled to appear in court, where he’ll plead his case to a judge. He appears remorseful for inconveniencing other passengers, but ultimately, he has the law to contend with — not the judgment of online strangers.
Coronavirus is deadly serious, and creating unnecessary panic can actually hurt attempts to contain the disease. Over 1,000 people are dead and hundreds of thousands are still infected while the world waits for a vaccine. Joking about it online is one thing, but doing a stunt like this is in poor taste.
Rather than fill yourself with fear and misinformation, the best way to stay safe during this outbreak is to follow basic hygiene precautions like washing your hands regularly and coughing into your elbow. You can also keep track of the spread with this verified map from John Hopkins University. Tap or click here to see where the coronavirus is.
Pranks like these are par for the course in an age of viral challenges across social media. After all, if you’re not terrifying innocent airplane passengers or nearly electrocuting yourself to death, can you even call yourself an internet celeb? Tap or click to learn more about the dangerous “outlet challenge.”