Covid confusion as parents worry about sending children back to school

By Emily Byrne, Marketing Executive at YUDU Sentinel

Header Image by Markus Winkler

Fake news on social media is causing Covid confusion among parents many of whom are unsure whether it’s safe to send their children back to school. Parents are inevitably feeling extremely conflicted. They want to keep their children safe but also know how important education and social interaction are to young minds. Add in a storm of fake news about the dangers of schools’ reopening and it’s no wonder parents are stressed.

Guardians have found themselves wading through advice on what can be expected in a Covid-safe school. Creators and publishers of distorted headlines exploit the concerns of the ever-worried parent in order to get their stories out there. Social media and networking apps have become a breeding ground for Covid confusion and the spreading of false information. In an effort to set the record straight we attempt to separate the fact from the fiction.

Claim: Schoolchildren can be taken for Covid tests and detained without their parents’ consent

More than 500 Facebook and WhatsApp posts have circulated in the past month claiming that children can be taken for Covid tests against their parents’ consent. One post has been shared 10,000 times on Facebook. It reads: “Parents: did you know that legislation has been passed under the Covid Act which would allow them to take your child out of school, test them and/or DETAIN them for fourteen days WITHOUT even informing you?” The post is cynically addressed to ‘all caring parents out there’. With a hook to reel in perturbed parents, the false news cycle begins.

Truth: Teachers cannot take children to coronavirus testing centres without their parents’ consent. If children were to test positive for coronavirus, they still cannot be detained without their guardians’ permission.

Claim: Masks could end up helping child abductors

In another scare it has been suggested that child abductors could use face masks to hide their identity. A troubling post declared: “It took under three minutes to throw a shirt over her tank. Put tape over her mouth. Turn her pink mask to the white side. Tuck her hair in a hat. And out shorts over her pink pants with the pant legs scrunched up. You wouldn’t even recognize your own child after three minutes. And you would be searching for the face of your missing child in a sea of MASKS!”

The allegation appeared in over 150 posts on Facebook in the last month, mainly in the US, but also in Canada, the Netherlands and the UK. The post has been shared 26,000 times. It is thought to have been created by QAnon, a conspiracy theory group in the US, who are often published on websites 4chan and 8chan. This group is suspected of being behind claims that President Trump is waging war against an alleged paedophile ring, with members in the government, business and media.

Truth: BBC News has confirmed:We can’t find any evidence of people trying to use (these) tactics to abduct children. Likewise, there’s no evidence that wearing masks somehow increases the risks.”

KidsSafe in Florida, a child protection charity, warns such posts: “threaten to diminish our identities, tarnish our reputations and harm our good works.” Charities have also said that these posts have led to their helplines being overrun, which has a knock-on impact on their work. Save the Children in the US has tweeted, objecting to the group’s use of the #SavetheChildren hashtag.

Claim: There are no cases of teachers being infected by students

A tweet was responsible for this conjecture. It read: “Masks in schools. Atrocious. No evidence supports this, in fact the opposite can be said. No teacher is recorded as getting Covid by a child, anywhere in the WORLD. Hospitalisation’s tiny, zero death days. What is this nonsense?”

Once again, social media amplifies this type of misinformation. The post was retweeted 255 times and liked 1,100 times.

Truth: You guessed it, it’s untrue to say no teacher has been recorded as catching Covid from a school child. In an investigation carried out by Public Health England, targeting outbreaks in schools in June, most coronavirus cases were due to staff passing on the virus to each other and students. However, six of the thirty outbreaks were said to have been caused by pupil-to-staff transmission, though incidents have been rare.

Take-aways

These theories have no factual basis. Measures are set in place to keep your child safe, such as the wearing of facemasks in communal areas in secondary schools and the teaching of children in ‘bubbles’.

The world we live in today see us constantly battling against fake news, enabled by our infatuation with technology, smartphones and social media. Media manipulators feed off the concerns of apprehensive parents who trawl social media sites or networking apps for answers about their child’s return to school post-lockdown. Parents must remember social media is rife with false claims. All it takes is a like or a share from someone in your network and the spoof news is part of your feed. So, remember to stay savvy as you scroll.

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