As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the globe, audiences are bombarded with all forms of news and information around the virus. The information available varies from news bulletins to opinion pieces and expert analyses on the topic, amidst many other fake news posts. It is only fair that the public try to make sense of the tragic circumstances and several op-eds and analyses have attempted to assist in that direction. Considering the number of fake posts that are also floating around social and digital media, being able to weed out the real opinions can be difficult.
In this context, we noticed a public Facebook group titled Mufti Ismail Menk claiming to be in honour of the Ismail ibn Musa Men a renowned Muslim cleric from Zimbabwe, had an image posted on 12th April 2020 that claimed pandemics occurred in determined frequency of every 100 years. The image, which seemed like a screen grab from a newspaper article from 26th January 2020, referred to the 1720 Plague, the Cholera outbreak of 1820, the 1920 Spanish Flu and ended with what seems to be called the 2020 Chinese Coronavirus. The publication referenced was titled ‘Earth/Unexplained’. The post, which was shared over 100 times from the Facebook group, can be seen below:
Identifying the current pandemic as the Chinese Coronavirus is also problematic and indicated xenophobic undertones. Based on the type of language used in the post and the facts that were presented, we investigated to find out the validity of this claim.
Our fact check began with a Google Reverse Image search indicated that the same or similar looking images of the said news bulletin were posted by several others around the world as can be seen in the screenshot below:
The search also revealed that a video titled ‘EPIDEMIC EVERY 100 YEARS’ was posted by a channel titled M3TROPOLIS on YouTube on 29th January this year, containing the same claim and similar imagery.
We next looked up the title of the publication Earth/Unexplained mentioned in the viral image to identify if such a publication in fact exists. The Google search results did not refer to any such title, other than the fact that both common words have been used in several articles including National Geographic which often published work on the world’s unexplained geographical and geopolitical phenomena.
Our next level of investigation went on to look up the actual histories of the other pandemics mentioned in the image to understand if pandemics in fact do follow a centenary pattern as suggested, beginning with the Plague of 1720. What we discovered is that the date was in fact entirely wrong. The Plague, commonly referred to as Black Death, peaked between 1347 and 1351, some 380 years prior to 1720, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The only reference to the year 1720 in relation to the plague is that a mass grave was exhumed that year in Marseille, France with victims of the Plague according to the CDC’s official website.
The next pandemic reference in the viral post was to the Cholera outbreak of 1820. The WHO website’s fact sheet on Cholera tells us that while the first outbreak was during the 19th century, there have been six subsequent outbreaks including one in 1971.
The third reference in the viral post, i.e. the Spanish Flu of 1920 also seems to be incorrect according to a CDC website article by Dr. Douglas Jordan. Yet again as it mentions the year of the outbreak as 1918, which debunks the 100-year pattern for the 3rd time.
Further, looking at the overall history of pandemics based on a recent BBC article, we gathered that the viral post had omitted several other pandemics including the 20th century Smallpox outbreak and the 21st century Ebola virus.
We also gathered that other fact checking organizations including Snopes, the Statesman and AFP have debunked other posts with the same claim and similar images recently.
Based on our findings and the several contrary evidences proving there is no such 100-year pattern for the outbreak of deadly pandemics. Hence the claim made in the post is false.
Title:Is There A Pandemic Every Hundred Years As These Viral Posts Claim?Fact Check By: Shanaya Seneviratne