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In the kind of world we live in today, people have become very mobile. In ancient times it took navigators months to reach other territories. Magellan’s fleet took three years from the time they left Spain, arrive in the Philippines, and for the one remaining ship to return. Today, travelers—from tourists to businessmen—crisscross the globe in hours.


The same is true with ideas. Advances in communications technology and the advent of social media have allowed people to share their thoughts—sophisticated or otherwise, true or false—with the world.


These advances have, for the most part, been very positive and have allowed us to progress. But just like any technology, it has a dark side. The ease of travel has been abused by some to facilitate human trafficking abusing the most vulnerable among us, women and children. As we entered the new year, a new virus, made more dangerous by people’s mobility, has threatened the lives of many.


The world is currently under threat from the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) which started in late 2019 in Wuhan, China when doctors there began investigating a “series of patients with unexplained pneumonia.”


After nearly two weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that the “unexplained pneumonia” is a new strain of coronavirus. According to WHO officials, the 2019-nCoV belongs to the family of Coronaviruses (CoV) that are transmitted between animals and people. Those who acquire the virus exhibit respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. It has, in some cases, led to the demise of patients.


The thing with viruses nowadays is that they are easily transmitted globally. Thailand and Japan had the first cases of the virus outside China. By the end of January, our Department of Health confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus in the country. It has spread to the US and Europe as well.


Ideas have become viral too. They are not as fatal as the coronavirus but misinformation has been employed to destroy reputations, put forth unscrupulous schemes like child prostitution and various scams that prey on ordinary people. I became a victim of such misinformation recently.


I am not saying that what happened to me even came close to the suffering of those hit by the virus. I simply want to demonstrate how easy it is nowadays to manufacture lies and spread it worldwide in the hope that our people would become more cautious in believing—hook, line, and sinker— anything they read on social media.


I had to issue a statement to the press because some people actually believed that I was endorsing a cryptocurrency program that guaranteed people will become rich “within three to four months.” This was of course fake news. I understand that other personalities were victimized by this scam as well.


It is actually a minor inconvenience to me but I was very worried about the people who might be victimized by such scams. I have seen in the past how investment schemes robbed people of their hard-earned money. In the past, scammers need to go house to house in order to peddle their lies but the viral nature of false information nowadays allows scammers to reach as many people to deceive.


This has become an industry in itself. The widespread use of social media provides opportunities for criminals to commit fraud. Scammers are constantly devising new and innovative ways to trick people out of money or harvest personal data, which can be used for financial gain.


Unlike viruses which require time to be able to develop a cure, the best remedy for social media scams is still the education and vigilance of our people. My general rule is that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar