NJ warns about false message urging minorities to abandon social distancing
In the latest disinformation attack targeting public health and safety, false messages purporting to be from the CDC are urging people in minority communities to abandon social distancing and congregate in packed public places.
The fake infographic claims to be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. It's titled "What to do if you get COVID-19" and is targeted at Muslims, Jews and minorities.
The message wrongly instructs people to visit their mosque or synagogue and "spend the day on public transportation." It also falsely advises people to "spend time in diverse neighborhoods" because "exposure to diversity is clinically proven to provide short-term and long-term benefits to immune system function."
"The graphic is a ploy to deceive people by using false stereotypes to convince the public to gather at these locations, which conflicts with social distancing norms," according to a rumor-control alert from the state offices of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Social distancing — which has led to mass closures of schools, houses of worship and retail businesses — is considered the best tool to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which can cause a serious respiratory disease called COVID-19. The disease has bombarded hospitals across the world, including in New York City and North Jersey, which are scrambling to acquire enough personal protective equipment for hospital workers and ventilators and beds for patients.
This is not the first dangerous falsehood to be circulated on social media. More than a week ago, White House officials warned the public that agents of China, Russia and Iran were using text messages to circulate "fake rumors about a national lockdown."
The state Office of Homeland Security last week said that domestic and international terror groups were taking advantage of the pandemic "to incite panic, target minorities and immigrants and celebrate the deaths of their enemies."
White supremacist groups, for example, were using the pandemic to advocate for "accelerationism" — the belief that mass attacks or chaos will hasten society's demise, leading to a racially pure nation. Homeland Security officials said these groups were encouraging supporters to incite panic and to fire guns into parked cars in urban areas.
Neo-Nazi groups also have been blaming the pandemic on "inferior" ethnic groups.
And ISIS has been encouraging jihadists to launch attacks in Europe and the United States while their populations are struggling with the virus.
In New Jersey, the Jewish community in Lakewood has been facing negative and anti-Semitic comments in response to news reports about police repeatedly having to break up large gatherings. Lakewood is also the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in Ocean County and one of the municipalities in New Jersey with the most cases.
Authorities in New Jersey have set up a dedicated website — covid19.nj.gov — where official information will be posted.
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