One thing that is amazing about the Internet and the culture that has grown up around it is that news spreads fast. Whether you are trying to communicate for business or stay in touch with friends, the fact that you can have almost any type of information right at your fingertips is the thing of imagination for generations in the past. Perhaps that is why it is still so shocking that false reports or viral “fake news” still happens with a frequency that should baffle anyone with access to Google. After all, can’t anything be verified quite easily with just a simple Internet search?
Yes and no, and as the case of the viral murder hornets illustrates, the truth is often a mixture of fact and then a load of embellishment. As University of California – Riverside entomologist Doug Yanega explains.
To cut a salacious story short, there are no Asian Giant Hornets in North America. You see, Doug Yanega is one of the foremost experts in identifying just this type of insect and he was called into Canada last year to do just that. What was identified there – and subsequently eradicated – precludes any chance of there being an invasion now of Asian Giant Hornets Or does it? While Doug is certain that the effort to clear out the Nanaimo hornets was successul, recent sightings in Washington state undermined that until it was discovered, through the use of genetics, that the hornet in question was not from the cleared out Canadian nest.
“The fact that the second hornet turned out to be genetically different somewhat raises the odds that there could be more of them…However, right now all authorities are doing is asking people to keep their eyes peeled in case there were queens that escaped destruction and established their own nests nearby,” Yanega explains.
So, there isn’t an invasion of gigantic killer hornets. Just an invasion of media hype instead, it seems. But not everything is media hype and, if found, Asian Giant Hornets could prove devastating for many ecological systems in North America. Why? For one, they are not native to North America and thus they do not have the predators to keep their population in check. Beyond that, however, they are devastating to bee populations – already a segment of the insect world under close observation by entomologists and others. In sum, the hornets would be bad news for anyone that encountered them, person or insect.
How does any of this explain the viral nature of the story? The Internet is a vast place but, really, the headlines here write themselves. Not only are the hornets by themselves a naturally viral and meme-worthy phenomenon with their large size and intimidating behavior but also the collective zeitgeist of Internet personalities and blogs has helped elevate it beyond what it really is. In other words, just another day on the Internet for many of us.