Behind our screens, we have to remain careful to the many conspiracy theories that can draw their arguments from popular culture.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic been announced in a South-Korean series in 2018?

Last edition the 26 Apr 2020 17:18:14 - Review by , correction by , coordination by Lina Fourneau

It's fake

In summury

From _1984 _by George Orwell to The Simpson, many people thought fiction as a premonition of reality. At the heart of this, a Korean series, broadcast in 2018 is evoking the coronavirus. That famous episode has exposed conspiracy circles and drove a reflection on the mechanisms of conspiracy theories.

Another video, an authentic one, has gone viral on social networks. In a demonstration that is "very easy to verify at home", Internet users show that the Covid-19 epidemic was announced two years ago in a South-Korean television series. The extract in question comes from episode 10 of the first season of the Korean series My Secret Terrius, available on Netflix and broadcast in September 2018.



Screenshot tweet


From the 53rd minute, various arguments are put forward and seem to disturb the viewers who relay this video: "**it's a mutant coronavirus", "it attacks the respiratory system", "it's a biochemical terrorist attack"**, etc ... The desired effect is successful since the fiction rubs up against the reality the world is going through: the Covid-19 pandemic. And if these arguments put forward in the series are fiction, they nevertheless find an echo in **conspiracy theories** and are often brandished as truths.

Pseudo-scientific catchphrase 


Julien Giry, PhD in political science at the University of Rennes 1, is a specialist of conspiracy theories. Concerning the so-called predictions, he explains that: 



     « The only argument is to say that the epidemic was predicted in advance, because the series is from 2018. All the assumptions are based on that. On the other hand, a simple search on the Internet reminds us that the discovery of the coronavirus dates back to the 1960s. Here, what is most striking is the truly amateurish side of the video. [...] Although this video requires very little verification, it may have become highly viral, or even be imagined as the truth. » 



In order to understand why these theories are non realastic, Journalistes Solidaires called Nicolas Minier, a doctoral student in bioengineering and member of the Café des sciences. He gives his analysis :
                                                                                         
1. It is a mutant coronavirus
"Here, we're bothered by the vague term "mutant", which is widely used in fiction, whereas in biology, we don't learn much from it. All viruses have mutations from their ancestors, just as you and I do."


2. It has the same genetic family as MERS, SARS, and influenza.
"Yes and no. The term "coronavirus" may indeed refer to a phylogenetic family, the Coronaviridae. In this family, we find the viruses responsible for SARS and MERS epidemics, but also a significant proportion of the winter "flu states" (the flu). However, to say that it is the same family as influenza is false, since the viruses responsible for influenza belong to the Orthomyxoviridae family."


3. It attacks the respiratory system
"True"


4. It has been modified to increase the mortality rate to 90 per cent.
"The genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 clearly suggests that it evolved naturally and is not the result of artificial selection or genetic engineering. "The virus has therefore not been modified and Nicolas Minier confirms this: "The mortality rate of SARS-CoV-2 is absolutely not 90%!“


5. The virus has an incubation period of two to fourteen days.
"SARS-CoV-2 has an incubation period that typically lasts around five days. Extremes exist, but they remain extremes. These are considered to range from two to twelve days."


6. The virus was modified to attack lungs five minutes after exposure.
"It depends on what you mean by "attacking the lungs"... Getting there? In this case, it's immediate, the infection starts as soon as the virus is inhaled. Causing damage? At first glance, no. That would be inconsistent with an incubation period of several days. There's a big inconsistency here."


7. There is no cure or vaccine at this time.
"There is no specific cure for Covid-19 today, nor a vaccine. This does not mean that we are helpless, but that our treatments are mainly symptomatic at the moment."


8. It's a biochemical terrorist attack...
"Using a modified virus to carry out a terrorist action is extremely risky! Especially if you decide to have a virus with a certain incubation period, contagiousness arriving before symptoms, and low mortality, it's a perfect cocktail for it to backfire on you."
Regarding SARS-CoV-2, the virus was not created in a laboratory (as the fourth point above reminds us), so it cannot emanate from a human will to attack the world.


This mixture of true, plausible and false arguments is a strategy to attract viewers. According to political scientist Julien Giry, "factual inaccuracy is not especially a problem because the one who is already convinced anyway will be convinced and will ignore it. If you want it to be credible, a good conspiracy theory must always seem plausible. It has to look scientific, it has to look serious, even if it's not. The important thing is credibility. »  


Anchoring a scenario in the real world gives it credibility


Beyond the scientific arguments, Nicolas Minier emphasizes the fact that these serie takes up scientific themes anchored in a reality to catch the audience's attention. He imagines that, in order to write a bioterrorist theme, the process would be as follows: "[...] Anchoring it in a past fear, taking up real information where things are not dangerous in order to make it credible, inflating the figures where it is understood that there is danger. That is exactly what is happening here. ...] The incubation period seems to fit perfectly, and it would be a curious coincidence... if it wasn't also the Wikipedia figures for SARS in 2003! The reference to other respiratory viruses also contributes to this "grounding in reality". The term "mortality" being more loaded than "incubation", we inflate it to the extreme! Clearly, scientific credibility is not the first concern of the series."


For his part, Julien Giry explains why this screenplay is so successful: "In the case of coronavirus theories, very often, a film script or explanation given in a series seems familiar to the audience, because they have already been heard somewhere. It's one of the plausible scenarios in his imagination because they have been seen in popular culture and they're going to be based on reality."


Except that there is a tipping point: the moment when a fiction mixes with reality by taking the form of theories.
For Julien Giry, this process is a need to make a reason: "During a disaster like this one, we feel the need for explanations. But if the explanations given by the authorities are often long in coming, [...] we find an alternative. So conspiracy theory wants to fill this void, this need for explanation by arguing that it happened "because" and "for such and such a reason". Conspiracy reasoning leads to the questioning of the commonly established version in the name of a hypothesis that has never been proven or demonstrated of a conspiracy."
 



Moreover, the particular context of the health crisis is "in an ecosystem with a lot of false information". 



Those who promote conspiracy theories will also try to attract their audience by sharing with them the feeling that they have "found the truth". It therefore seems easy to make people believe that the pandemic was announced in a South-Korean television series, especially since it takes up existing scientific themes. 


Finally, many fake news play on words: as the coronavirus is a family of viruses, this term has been associated many times exclusively with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore important to remain vigilant with regard to the names used.

About the investigation

The informations above explain to you our investigations methodology.

Informations

Vérifiée et fausse

First time seen
25 Mar 2020
Last update
26 Apr 2020
First spotted on

Non renseigné

Log

This video shows that a South-Korean series produced by Netflix predicted the current epidemic as early as 2018. The process is simple to reproduce at home and the video has not changed the content of the series presented: it is authentic.

However, in order to put an end to the conspiracy theories, we first set out all the arguments in the episode. Here are some of them:

"It's a mutant coronavirus" / "During the 2015 Sea Epidemic, the mortality rate was over 20%" / "Has been altered to increase the mortality rate to 90%" / "Incubation period from two to 14 days" / "Has been altered to attack the lungs 5 min after exposure" / "No cure or vaccine yet" / "A man-made virus" / "A biochemical terrorist attack"

We will see that there are some similaritie but also a certain amount of fiction. For this, we will use the point of view of a scientist.

We will also look at psychological researches to see how this mirror between series and reality is often used in conspiracy theories.

Tracks and conclusions

The video is authentic: the scene goes well at the 53' mn of My Secret Terrius.

My Secret Terrius: according to Netflix, the series was released in September 2018. Romantic TV Thriller series "A secret service agent who has isolated himself from the world after a professional fiasco tries to solve the mystery behind his neighbor's death."

Checkmy.News team

Lina Fourneau

Nelly Pailleux

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