A school in Gloucestershire, west England, closed for several days due to an ‘invasion of poisonous spiders’. Experts said they weren’t aggressive, but the school closed, alarm spread, and some media didn’t hesitate to call them. “Eight Legged Monsters”.
In another case, the alleged seriousness of a spider bite on a woman triggered social alarm in Mallorca (Spain). Social networks were saturated with messages and photographs of stings. Although the Ministry of Health and the Islands Reference Hospital have made public that there is no health alarm and experts have explained that there is no type of dangerous spider in Mallorca, the messages on the networks continued for days and days.
This news is likely to produce fear or terror, visceral reactions often sought by the most sensational newspapers. And they weren’t framed in the local or regional press, they spread globally almost immediately.
This news brings with it political or social actions that can have a high cost, often unnecessary. For example, that of not taking children to school for several days or that of environmental contamination derived from unnecessary pesticide treatments. But, above all, they fuel a global sentiment based on misinformation: the fear of spiders.
Contrary to the impression one gets from reading this news, the risk of exposure to a spider is minimal. Studies conducted in Switzerland estimate that the annual probability of suffering a spider bite is between 10 and 100 cases per million inhabitants. Another study conducted in Australia indicates that only 6% of confirmed cases of spider bites were of medical significance.
The global spread of misinformation about spiders
In a recent work conducted by more than 60 researchers and published in the journal Current biology The global spread of misinformation about spiders has been studied. This collective effort resulted in the compilation of more than 5,000 spider-human encounter stories published on the internet between 2010 and 2020. The stories were evaluated according to their quality (presence or absence of errors) and their degree of accuracy. accuracy of sensationalism. .
Disinformation and sensational language
Nearly half of the stories analyzed contained errors or inaccurate information, such as the incorrect identification of the protagonist spider. Some articles report species that don’t even live in the area, and sometimes there’s no certainty that the sting happened.
In up to 43% of cases, the news uses sensational language. In contrast, the language of the news was less sensational when arachnology experts were consulted.
Mistakes often start at the regional level, and the story is amplified in national and international media. This, experts say, is a defining characteristic of modern disinformation: the amplification of small errors that underpin a false story. It is present in both spider news and political news.
The likelihood of a country being a distributor of sensational spider-man encounter news was positively related to several factors. Among them, the proportion of sensational news published in the country, the presence of spiders considered deadly and a high number of Internet users.
There are more dangerous spiders in Australia than in almost any other country, yet news about spiders is accurate and rarely emotionally charged. According to the analysis, the UK generates the most arachnid misinformation, despite having very few dangerous poisonous spider species.
The consequences of the bad reputation generated are not the least. They reinforce a feeling of animosity in public opinion against these arthropods. Hence what we mentioned at the beginning of the article: avoid their presence in public or private spaces, and resort to unnecessary phytosanitary treatments. Moreover, that false alarms cause schools to close or that tourism suffers.
The other side of the spiders
The first clearly spider-shaped depictions date back 10,000 years. Due to their distribution, which spans all continents and habitats, as well as their biology and ecology, they have been admired and feared in equal measure. They have often been associated with deities, attributing to them creative powers (due to their great fertility, the ability to make and weave silk, and their cunning) and destructive powers (related to their ways of hunting and the presence of poison).
All spiders, with the exception of the family Uloboridae, produce poison, but this, with rare exceptions, is imperceptible to humans. They use it, along with silk, to catch or immobilize their prey. Only four genera of spiders whose venom is of medical interest have been described (Phenutria, loxoceles, Latrodectus Yes atrax), and only 4% of known species can be dangerous to humans. This means that of the approximately 45,000 known species, more than 43,200 are harmless.
Contrary to popular belief, spiders have many beneficial aspects. First of all, they contribute to the total biodiversity of the planet, being one of the largest groups of invertebrate animals. In addition, they play an essential role in the remediation of crop pests due to their condition as predatory insects and are an important component of bioindicators of environmental quality. Once the criminalized vision of arachnids is unmasked, when faced with a spider, it is better to be nice to it, because it is a natural treasure.
Reference article: https://theconversation.com/la-disinformacion-alimenta-el-panico-a-las-aranas-190381