Facebook users turn on Edwin Vassallo’s warning on AIDS-infected bananas

A Nationalist MP posted a warning about AIDS-infected bananas...

As Malta considers whether its parliament should grow in size to introduce a higher ratio of female MPs, it is the incumbents who are raising doubts on whether they should stay in such a position of influence. 

Facebook gave Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo, one of the party’s more conservative MPs, a quick lesson in fact-checking when he posted the image of alleged AIDS-infected bananas. 

Vassallo, a former junior minister, posted the image of a “warning” on banana injected with “blood containing HIV and AIDS” as a way of killing those who consume it. “That is Satanism,” the post continued. “Please share” - which Vassallo inevitably did. 

But rather than the usual messages of sycophantic support, enter the army of Facebook fact-checkers. 

“As an elected MP you should be evaluating such posts before scaring people... according to this food safety centre, HIV cannot be transmitted through food,” one good soul said, posting a Hong Kong food safety authority link. “If you cannot decipher a lie on Facebook, how can people trust you?” 

The flood of truth-loving opprobrium was merciless: “Check your sources before sharing fake news”; “False news”; “Fake news. Please check your sources”; “It beggars belief how people in your position think that they can just share rubbish like this. This is misinformation and fake news, and it hurts those who live with HIV. If you can’t find it in your Christian conscience to be kind, at least try not to be so gullible”; 

“Sources should be checked before sharing especially from someone in your position. Adding to the stigma which is already present around HIV is not helping anyone and if anything is causing more problems. Malta has a rising number of people with HIV and I would expect that you would want to educate and provide beneficial information to society as opposed to spreading false information and fake news.” 

More succinct pearls included: “Please leave Planet Earth.” 

But don’t take it from just Facebook users. Snopes has already fact-checked this claim: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV cannot be transmitted by water or food. In fact, HIV does not live long outside the human body. 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. Based on the current scientific evidence, WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are of the opinion that food is not a source of HIV infection. 

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