The current period has been full of surprises as well as controversies. Staying locked down for months makes nothing happen on the inside maybe, but many things have happened on the outside. But did they actually happen, or did we just want them to happen? Some events can reveal themselves to be not as true as we thought them to be. The most striking example is indeed the apparent return of wildlife to urban areas, a phenomenon which went viral throughout all virtual platforms, and which now is being put under the guillotine.

Let us throw some light on this curious topic. At first sight, we would say that yes, the many videos making rounds on the Internet lately are telling us that, in the end, this could be at least one of the famous “silver linings” of the extraordinary picture depicted by Coronavirus. But this is not the truth. The reality is much different, and it demonstrates the contrary. In fact, whoever decides to go deeper on the matter will easily discover that all those elephants in a Chinese village in Yunnan Province are a usual event in those rural areas, as it shows this video, recorded on the 14th of June 2015.

The same works for the flourishing content showing swans and dolphins “back” in Venice. The former are normal visitors in the canals of the city, especially near the greater metropolitan area, such as the small island of Burano. The dolphins’ photos belong instead to the proper definition of “fake news”, as they were taken in a completely different place from where they were claimed to be, that is a port in Sardinia.

Swans frequent Burano, as the video demonstrates. This particular one was taken in September 2012.

Similar content went instantly viral and it was shared not only by naïve users -who by the way managed to achieve hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets- but also by some significant newspapers as The Guardian headlines reports. Now we can understand how fake news comes to life and grow until they become surprisingly popular, establishing themselves as acquainted information in the realm of social networks. Moreover, when dealing with wildlife videos, the possibility of it going viral increases, considering their spontaneous and heart-warming feature which makes them more likely to be shared.

Social psychologists point out that it is not a case that phenomena such as these are happening in this crucial moment; given the situation of social distress we are experiencing, the possibility to share stories like these can make us feel better, give a sense to the crisis and a reason to think positively. Nevertheless, drawing positivity from false facts can lead to an even worse condition. To cite experts: “fake feel-good stories can make people even more distrustful at a time when everyone already feels vulnerable”.

People are desperately searching for good news which can show that not everything is lost, that Earth can still “take revenge” on humans and we do not have to worry, because as soon as human footprints retreat, the animals will regain power. The example of animal videos is precisely on point. But it is fake, as the hopes it brings with itself. The animals we see in these videos have always been next to us, hidden somewhere, and now they are just relaxing a bit on the newly deserted roads of our cities. But they will return to their ever smaller and protected areas as soon as we step out of our houses.

Interesting studies claim indeed that the attitude of some species has always been as such. They pop out when the disturbing noises of traffic jam calm down, as birds and their singing do on the weekend, or when human presence lowers for some reason. According to the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), some animals are able to update their map of threats incredibly fast, redesigning their spaces of action and the places they can go through. That is the possible reason why in this period you could see more frequently a deer in the streets of some cities in the United Kingdom, but it is also the reason why that same deer will return to its park when the quarantine will end. 

To sum up, were the videos and photos we mentioned actually true? No. The elephants, swans, and dolphin pictures were taken in previous times; when COVID-19 had not affected their behaviors at all.

Unfortunately, fake news drives the most beautiful of stories…


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