Expert worries about harm TikTokers having on COVID-19 misinformation spreading

An expert has warned COVID-19 conspiracy theories being spread on TikTok are harming the country's fight against the virus.   

An Australian TikToker going by the username 'Real Mystic W' is fueling rumours that New Zealand was in for an imminent lockdown. 

This forced the Ministry of Health to come out and deny these claims with a late-night post to Facebook on Thursday. 

The ministry stated Healthline was "reporting many rumours relating to COVID-19 and lockdowns circulating".

"None of the reported rumours are true. There are currently no community cases of COVID-19 or any imminent lockdowns."

TikToker 'Real Mystic W' - who has over 1.4 million followers - claimed New Zealand would be in lockdown on August 10.

In his bio on his account, he says he is a "High-end corporate consultant, global predictions and future visions," in other words, he is claiming to be a sidekick. 

Data Science Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury Giulio Dalla Riva worries that these conspiracy theorists drive the conversation away from the actual problems.  

"The harm is when they capture the conversation, they drive us away from the structure of problems when we need to solve it and discuss it and they lead us to discuss useless versions and conspiracy theories," Riva told The Project. 

"I think that they offer an easy and wrong solution to an actual issue we have. After over one year of the pandemic, we crave for some sense of security and to know what is going to happen to us. 

"Sometimes a wrong answer is more appealing than no answer."

In a survey conducted earlier this year on New Zealanders, 82 percent worry about misinformation, while 90 percent think that it influences views on public health.  

Some of 'Real Mystic W' followers claimed he actually helped focused our attention on COVID-19 but Riva doesn't believe that.

"I don't think our attention COVID-19 can be bigger than it is now," he says. "We are all focused on COVID-19 right now and for people like him coming out and saying I'm wrong is very easy. 

"The video where he said he was wrong got so many views that nobody actually notices it. 

"Making predictions is easy, you just have to make it vague enough. Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

The Government said this week that if the highly transmissible Delta variant was to be detected in the community, it would move swiftly to impose restrictions. 

"In the event we discovered Delta we would move to alert level 4...we maintain the best economic response is a strong public health response, and a short sharp lockdown is likely to be more successful [than a longer, less restricted one]," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.

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