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Monday, March 14, 2011

Fear Mongering

This afternoon, I received a frightening text message from a good friend. The message read:
BBC News Flash: japan gov't confirms radiation leak at fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should take necessary precautions. Remain indoors first 24 hours. Close doors n windows. Swab neck skin with betadine where thyroid is, radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precaution radiation may hit phil at starting 4pm today. Pls send to your loved ones. 
At first glance, the message looked legitimate. It came from a friend, the source is a respectable international broadcasting firm, and indeed, at the time the nuclear plants in Fukushima were being monitored for possible radiation leak.  But I was already skeptical.  It looked like another one of those text hoaxes.

The researcher in me kicked in and I wanted to get the details and facts right where they came from.  A quick check on the BBC website proved me right. I didn't find any mention of the warning on the radiation from the damaged nuclear plants going to our direction.  

I quickly informed my friend and in a few minutes he replied through a text message that it was indeed a hoax and the health department has already released information that our country will not be affected by any radiation coming from Japan.

But what was even more surprising were the news reports earlier tonight.  A state university in Manila sent home their students and closed their buildings because of that text message.  The president of the university said that he declared the suspension of classes because he wanted to ease the worries of the parents of their 30,000 students.

At the same time, there was a mad rush among panicking people to buy Betadine, a brand of antiseptic made from 10% povidone-iodine in water.  A leading drugstore reported a surge in sales of the brand, with some of their branches running out of supplies.  The health department has also come out with a statement that Betadine is useless in preventing radiation illness.

A friend also told me that there's another text message that warned people to put on raincoats or use umbrellas in case it rained tonight.  The text alleged that people might get skin cancer and other diseases brought about by nuclear wastes in the air due to the radiation leak in Japan.

I am surprised that with all the information available literally at our fingertips, people still believe these hoaxes.  There are already ways to verify such reports either from the mass media or yes, the Internet.

I have forgotten who once said that highly stressful situations bring out the best and worst in people.  While the Japanese people  face the consequences of the disaster that befell them with dignity, here we have some Filipinos who are spreading false information to spread panic. I hope people would learn to discern what is true and avoid being victimized by these fear mongers. I hope they also learn to verify the information first before spreading it blindly to other people.

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