According to a theory circulating on the internet, the United States government will soon have an “antivirus” for the novel coronavirus that involves inserting a chip into your body to track your movements.
That’s news to us.
We came across a lengthy Facebook post that claims an “RFID chip” will be included in the antivirus, enabling the government to “watch your location, the speed your (sic) walking and even WHAT’S IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM.”
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
This is a hoax. There is no credible evidence that supports this theory. What’s more, the term “antivirus” typically refers to software designed to detect and eliminate computer viruses — not a vaccine for the human body.
Related: 7 ways to avoid misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic
RFID refers to radio-frequency identification technology, which has been around in one form or another since the 1970s. It uses small chips that emit radio waves to identify people or objects, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, said the idea of a vaccine containing RFID technology is preposterous.
“Even the smallest version of RFID chips are rather large such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle — these are very small-bore needles,” Dr. Chen told PolitiFact in an email, referring to the diameter of the needles. “The RFID chips that are routinely used for the tracking of pets are as small as a grain of rice … or in other words, they are as large as a grain of rice, and no vaccine needles in use are that large in diameter.”
Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida who has written extensively about conspiracy theories, told us this type of hoax is typical of many theories rooted in otherwise legitimate concerns about privacy. It isn’t surprising that the hoax has been adapted to the current outbreak and included in misinformation about the novel coronavirus, he said.
Tracking technology has been deployed in the battle against the coronavirus. Singapore, China and South Korea have employed a number of data-generating tools to help track movement, monitor quarantines and identify where infected people are, for example. Human-rights organizations say the ramped up surveillance comes with significant privacy concerns and ethical challenges that the U.S. is still grappling with.
But while there is ongoing discussion of how to use technology to help track virus spread, this “antivirus” implant notion remains very far afield from what is actually unfolding.
“The fear of insertion of tracking chips and other things like that into our bodies has been a longstanding bogeyman for theorists,” Fenster said. “There is a lot of tracking that goes on, but the suggestion that it’s being used in this manner and this way seems absurd. This comes from the stream of conspiracy theories of the last 50 years. It has nothing to do with science and everything to do with conspiracy theories.”
Social media has been rife with falsehoods and hoaxes about the novel coronavirus, and the response to it. This is another one. Pants on Fire!
Department of Homeland Security, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): What is it?, April 2, 2020
CNBC, Use of surveillance to fight coronavirus raises concerns about government power after pandemic ends, March 26, 2020
Washington Post, Government efforts to track virus through phone location data complicated by privacy concerns, March 19, 2020
Phone interview, Mark Fenster law professor at the University of Florida, April 2, 2020
Email interview, Dr. Wilbur Chen infectious disease expert at the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, April 2, 2020