The global coronavirus outbreak has produced some surreal sights over the past few weeks. Famous tourist destinations in Italy and New York City are ghost towns right now as people have been told to stay indoors. This has led to an onslaught of viral posts claiming things like dolphins are swimming in the Venetian canals because humans are effectively MIA.
Amazing, right? It would be if it were true. The alleged Venice dolphins make up just one example of fake, viral posts centered around animals supposedly reclaiming nature in the absence of humans, as National Geographic pointed out. One tweet about the false phenomenon has close to 40,000 likes, for example.
The only problem is that a quick trip to Snopes reveals the truth, which is much less exciting than what these viral posts would have you believe. Dolphins have, indeed, shown up in Italian canals, but not in Venice; instead, those dolphins were seen in Sardinia, nearly 500 miles away. More noteworthy is the fact that dolphins show up in Sardinia from time to time, with plenty of dolphin-themed boat trips offered to tourists and nearly three-year-old videos to prove it.
The same goes for claims that swans “returned” to Venice after some undefined absence. That’s not a new occurrence, nor is the idea of elephants showing up in Chinese villages. These things have happened before coronavirus took hold on the global news cycle, and they’ll happen again. Chinese news sources, for instance, have debunked the elephant post, per National Geographic.
While sharing seemingly harmless videos of dolphins under the belief that the pandemic brought them back to Venetian waterways isn’t the same as sharing fake health information, you should still use an abundance of caution before hitting retweet. It’s easy to find comfort in evidence that good things are happening in the midst of tragedy. We get it. That said, we all need to be more vigilant than usual.
A time of crisis like this can also be prime lying season for people who want attention. Twitter, in particular, makes it easy to embed a couple of photos, claim something that’s not happening is happening, and watch tens of thousands of people validate you for it. Everyone on Twitter has fallen prey to this at some point because retweeting is faster and easier than googling something.
Please just exercise some caution before spreading things that feel unreal. If something seems unbelievable, try and figure out if it’s true before sharing it. The last thing we need while tens of thousands of people are dying and millions more are isolated is to propagate the idea that their absence is a net positive.