According to some people on Nextdoor, the coronavirus has spread because people aren’t vegan, people are homeless, they aren't taking the proper homemade supplements, and they aren’t sanitizing their hands with tea tree oil.
“Good afternoon Neighbors, I’m not the kind of person who wants to live in fear,” one person in Alabama wrote. “With that being said, thoughts on the manmade bioweapon Corona Virus? Should we be stocking up like people did for the Y2K?”
Nextdoor, which has over 27 million users and 230,000 defined neighborhoods around the world, is known for bringing the best and worst of local communities onto the internet. At its best, it’s a place to share useful information and meet your neighbors. At its worst, it’s a harbor for racism, scams, and petty drama. And as the coronavirus epidemic grows in the United States, the lack of reliable information has created the perfect environment for false or misleading information to spread on social media, especially Nextdoor.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to help our members stay safe and have access to real-time trusted information from local health officials,” a Nextdoor spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “To date, we have: published and shared information in our newsfeed from official health authorities (CDC, WHO), worked with our Public Agency partners to deliver official updates as it relates to their community, and published guidelines on how to report misinformation on our platform.”
The spokesperson also urged users to only share verified information, and to report all instances of misinformation.
“It really is standard Nextdoor, how Nextdoor reacts to anything.”
There are currently more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, around the world, and 14 people in the US have died. But there’s currently no reliable figure about the current number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US, since there’s been confusion, inconsistencies, and mismanagement of the testing requirements for the coronavirus.
Jenn Takahashi, who runs the popular Twitter and Instagram accounts Best of Nextdoor, said that while she tries to keep the content on Best of Nextdoor lighthearted, she’s seen several concerning posts about the coronavirus.
“Someone is saying to buy tea tree oil if you can’t buy Purell,” Takahashi said. “I don’t know if they’re joking or not, but someone started a doomsday prepper group.”
Takahashi said that the reaction to the coronavirus on Nextdoor — which includes a mix of earnest advice, conspiracy theories, and skepticism — is about what she expected.
“I feel like Nextdoor is like any social network,” she said. “Nothing really surprises me anymore. Some people freaking out, some people think it’s a conspiracy. It really is standard Nextdoor, how Nextdoor reacts to anything.”
“Nobody wants commonsense stuff that the experts recommend.”
Gary Call, chief medical officer at health care company HMS, said that the coronavirus has made people feel “concerned and fearful of the unknown.” But he categorically denied the substance of the rumors spreading on Nextdoor. He said that there’s no truth to the idea that tea tree oil is a reliable replacement for hand sanitizer, and no proof that the coronavirus can spread between cats and dogs and humans. And while some nutritional supplements can bridge gaps in a person’s diet, which can improve a person’s health and immune system, there’s no supplement that can prevent the virus — which currently does not have a vaccine.
“I think every time a new infection pops up that people are fearful of, the same kinda stuff circulates,” Call said. “The fear factor and hype that’s going on around coronavirus is probably a little bit more because people see it spreading faster than some of these things have before.”
As panic and misinformation spread about the coronavirus, some local governments have posted reliable information on Nextdoor about how people can proactively improve their hygienic practices and protect their health. For instance, the public information officer for Brunswick County, North Carolina, posted tips about preventing the spread of illness, which included CDC-recommended measures like frequently washing your hands with soap and warm water. However, people on Nextdoor haven’t stopped looking for alternatives to this advice.
“Nobody wants commonsense stuff that the experts recommend — they want to have the magical thing,” Call said. “People wanna be safe and protected, so they tend to believe things that don’t really have much evidence but make sense to their belief system or the world.”
This post has been updated with a comment from Nextdoor.