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Once and For All, Walmart Bananas Do Not Have HIV

Once and For All, Walmart Bananas Do Not Have HIV!

Even if they did, you can't "catch" HIV from eating fruit since exposure to oxygen and stomach acid kills the virus.

There is a disturbing fake news story that has been going viral on social media for the past year, claiming that bananas from an Oklahoma Walmart have “tested positive with HIV.”

The spread of a hoax like this is unsettling for many reasons. It perpetuates fear, ignorance, and panic in relation to HIV; which further stigmatizes those currently living with the virus and spreads erroneous facts of how HIV is transmitted. It also illustrates how easily the public can be swayed into believing something that is 100 percent false. And all it takes is the use of powerful imagery combined with the written word—especially when an audience isn’t aware of current scientific findings.

First, let’s clarify the facts, based on over three decades of research: HIV cannot be transmitted through food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “You can’t get HIV from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person. Even if the food contained small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus.”

There have been similar hoaxes in the past regarding HIV injected foods. Politifact reports "One version said the World Health Organization issued a warning about bananas being infected with HIV in India." They say this version first started gaining momentum in November 2015, when a Facebook user posted the following (spelling and grammatical errors from the original text, a screenshot of which the Washington Post published):

“This happened to my friends sister who lives in Nebraska but please share this and be aware. Someone is injecting blood into banannas. The hospital tested the bananna and it is indeed blood. After researching on the Internet apperently someone is injecting HIV positive blood into bananas and oranges.”

This post was shared over 58,000 times on Facebook. Since then, the fake story has continued to go viral with a few different versions, all claiming to be from reputable news sources or warnings from world health organizations.

The most recent and prominent version of this hoax comes from a fake news site called cnnews3, which is not affiliated with CNN. However, to an uncritical eye, it does appear to be. It comes complete with a title bar at the top of the page which reads “CNN Breaking News.” This site uses a red CNN logo that is an almost an exact match of the real news giant’s logo, an obvious attempt to trick readers into believing that this story comes from a trusted news source.

The headline reads “HIV Virus Detected in Walmart Bananas after 10-Year-Old Boy Contracts the Virus.” Accompanying the story is a high-quality photo of an un-peeled banana with a reddish, blood-colored streak on it. The fake story goes on to claim that eight other children in the area who ate bananas from that Walmart have tested positive for HIV within the month.

One doesn’t have to investigate too deeply to realize that something is fishy about this story. First, the site URL, cnnews3 is missing a third “N” for news. There are also several immediate tell-tale signs that these particular stories are indeed false. All versions of this story are riddled with typographical errors. It is doubtful that a large news conglomerate like CNN would have multiple typos in their articles.

If you look at some of the other stories on cnnews3, you would see they are of a ridiculous, sensationalist, tabloid-ish nature. Again, the real CNN probably wouldn’t cover stories about “gorillas raping neighborhood cats” or McDonald’s employees “ejaculating into secret sauce.” If you try to verify these stories you quickly learn they too are completely fabricated and not based on any real facts.

But even with all these red flags, fake news stories go viral. Why? Why are so many people quick to believe (and share) a seemingly obvious hoax? Though we may be tempted to pass quick judgment on those who are fooled by such stories, we must examine the reasons why people believe them. Because the truth is, people of all political leanings and education levels have fallen for these hoaxes. Even reputable news outlets can find themselves taken in by these click-bait stories. Unfortunately many of these hoaxers are more clever than we might initially give them credit for. They understand — and prey on — human nature and our predictability.

In today’s imagery based world of social media, most people, in the course of their busy everyday lives, don’t look beyond a headline and photo before they share, comment, or decide if a statement is fact. Add to that impulse a false CNN logo, and a fear-based topic; and you’re in complete panic mode.

Just as the mainstream media has been criticized for adding to the public perception that everything is going to hell, these hoaxers know how to pull at our heartstrings. By making “the victim” in the story an innocent 10-year-old boy, the hoaxers immediately strike fear into the heart of all parents reading it. Who doesn’t buy bananas for their kids? And even if you don’t have children, you have probably eaten a banana yourself once or twice. The commonality of the story is designed to reach and frighten a broader audience.

Unfortunately, in our social media driven world, fake news is a growing trend and is not likely to go away anytime soon. Because of the anonymity of the internet, it is extremely easy to start a hoax and extremely difficult to trace its source. What we can do is start with a little healthy skepticism and then do some investigating when we see sensational and fear-based stories come across our feed. For one, read the article; does the content bear out the headline? Then dig a little deeper. Run an online search. See if it is being reported elsewhere by other reputable and trusted news organizations.

Use logic. If there was a life-threatening epidemic going on, most major news networks and publications would be covering it. Right? Look for a governmental response: Has the CDC gotten involved? Law enforcement? The Food and Drug Administration?

We also must continue to educate ourselves on important health topics like HIV transmission, from reputable sources like the CDC, medical journals, and trustworthy publications. The spread of false facts about HIV is the height of irresponsibility and we must continue to fight back against fake news stories that promote prejudice and fear, perpetuate ignorance, and continue to add to the harmful stigma faced by those living with HIV.

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