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National Geographic Debunks Viral Animal News Stories About Swans In Venice And Drunk Elephants In China
A completely empty canal with unused Gondole is seen on March 9, 2020 in Venice, Italy. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a "national emergency" due to the coronavirus outbreak and imposed quarantines on the Lombardy and Veneto regions, which contain roughly a quarter of the country's population.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

It seems like during every crisis, wild claims about animals always pop up.

Remember after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017 and an image went viral purporting to show a shark swimming down a freeway? It was fake, but the “news” traveled far and wide. Similar claims are being made regarding the coronavirus outbreak, National Geographic reported. The type of animal “news” story that seems to keep going viral during the coronavirus quarantines around the world features an idea that animals are thriving without humans and returning to places where they had been banished due to development.

It’s a nature lover’s dream, but the viral stories flooding the Internet are not true.

One story came from a single person’s tweet claiming the canals of Venice were clearer than ever and that swans had returned now that humans weren’t using them to travel. While the water is clearer due to a lack of pollution, the swans in the viral photograph “regularly appear in the canals of Burano, a small island in the greater Venice metropolitan area, where the photos were taken,” National Geographic reported.

As for the viral claim that dolphins were seen swimming in the Venice canals, National Geographic also had some bad news: “The “Venetian” dolphins were filmed at a port in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea, hundreds of miles away.”

A third story that has gone viral involves a wild claim that 14 elephants traveled into a village in the Chinese province of Yunnan, drank “30kg” of corn wine that got them so drunk they passed out in a nearby tea garden.

“No one has figured out where the drunken elephant photos came from, but a Chinese news report debunked the viral posts: While elephants did recently come through a village in Yunnan Province, China, their presence isn’t out of the norm, they aren’t the elephants in the viral photos, and they didn’t get drunk and pass out in a tea field,” National Geographic reported.

The person who posted the picture of the swans “returning” to the Venice canals acknowledged that she made a mistake and wishes she could edit the tweet, but told the outlet that she won’t delete the incorrect tweet because “It’s a personal record for me, and I would not like to delete it.” Her tweet received more than a million likes.

More from National Geographic:

Paulo Ordoveza is a web developer and image verification expert who runs the Twitter account @picpedant, where he debunks fake viral posts—and calls out the fakers. He sees firsthand the “greed for virality” that may drive the impulse to propagate misinformation. It’s “overdosing on the euphoria that comes from seeing those like and retweet numbers rise into the thousands,” he says.

Getting a lot of likes and comments “gives us an immediate social reward,” says Erin Vogel, a social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. In other words, they make us feel good. Studies have found that posting to social media gives one’s self-esteem a temporary boost.

The moral of the story is that its not just misinformation about the coronavirus that is spreading, fake news about a host of tangentially related topics are spreading as well.

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