Reports of wildlife triumphing in countries hit by coronavirus are spread far and wide across social media, but are they true?
Amidst streams of news stories updating the extent of the global outbreak of Covid-19, some gleeful and feel-good posts about animals rebounding as humans are forced to self-isolate, have surfaced online.
Posts have flooded social media claiming that nature is taking over with humans out of the picture with swans returning to Venetian canals, dolphins showing up, and even a herd of elephants breaking into Chinese cornfields and getting drunk off cornwine and passing out there.
Understandably in these uncertain and trying times these stories, some of which have been retweeted by nearly a million people, have given hope to hundreds of thousands of people.
The majority of these posts had one message implicitly or explicitly stated – that nature rebounds when humans retract. But it turns out they’re not as true as they appear on the internet.
Whereas, human activities certainly impact nature and wildlife negatively, and the lockdown is having some positive environmental impacts, the viral feel-good posts that people shared and retweeted believing to be true, are not accurate.
Swans like the ones shared in the viral posts regularly visit the canals of Burano, a small island near Venice, National Geographic reports.
A Chinese media outlet has debunked the drunken elephant post clarifying the elephants in the viral post are not the ones active in the country. Whilst elephants did visit a village in the Yunnan province in China, this behaviour isn’t out of the ordinary.
Sadly the viral dolphin post that claims dolphins have been spotted in Venice is also a hoax. The images of the dolphins were shot hundreds of miles away at a port in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean sea.
“Joy in these gloomy days”
Twitter user Kaveri Ganapathy Ahuja who shared the viral swan post did not expect her post to spread so far when she saw pictures of swans on social media and decided to compile them in a Twitter post. She was unaware the swans are a regular visitor there, National Geographic reports.
Her tweet has since been retweeted over a million times and according to her; “The tweet was just about sharing something that brought me joy in these gloomy times,” Ahuja said. She told she didn’t want to cause any harm, about her controversial tweet.
Ahuja has refused to delete the tweet because according to her “It’s a personal record for me, and I would not like to delete it.”
Need to feel good at a time of crisis?
What compels people to share untrue stories on social media, especially at trying times like this? It could be the potential for viral fame or a feeling of satisfaction or a feeling of purpose. Studies suggest posting on social media is associated to a temporary boost in esteem.
Erin Vogel, a social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Stanford says getting likes and comments give us an immediate sense of social reward.
“In times when we’re all really lonely,” Vogel says, “it’s tempting to hold onto that feeling, especially if we’re posting something that gives people a lot of hope.” She also adds the idea nature rebounds when humans are in crisis “could help give us a sense of meaning and purpose—that we went through this for a reason.”
“People hope that, no matter what we’ve done, nature is powerful enough to rise above it,” Susan Clayton, a professor of environmental studies and psychology at University of Wooster says.
Whilst a happy story about drunken elephant or dolphins may not be harmful per se, they could hit the distrust button in people at a time of crisis like this. Erin Vogel, says finding out a piece of good news is untrue can be more demoralizing than not hearing it at all.
With social media being used by many as their main source of information and entertainment, particularly in a world that is increasingly locking down for the pandemic, people must share stories that focus on the truth rather than continuing to spread false information.
Debayan is a Digital Writer who writes for anything that benefits Humanity. Currently a Copywriter at Paperboat Holidays, Debayan remains busy finding the meaning of life when not working.