Texas man arrested after causing panic by pretending to have coronavirus as a 'social experiment'

A 23-year-old man has been arrested after a Facebook post claiming he had coronavirus went viral.

Michael Lane Brandin, 23, posted the update last month, before the state of Texas – where he lives – went into lockdown.

Not only did he falsely state he had tested positive for Covid-19, but he also claimed that doctors had told him the virus was now airborne, meaning it could be caught simply by being in the same space as someone who is infected.

Brandlin says he made the claims to "do a social experiment", but didn't realise how seriously the consequences could be.

He said:

I have a bachelors of science degree in mass communications. I did it to prove how easy it is for anyone to post something online and cause panic. I wanted to prove that it is important for people to be educated and do their own research before assuming everything they read or hear is true.

According to the BBC, the misinformation spread around Tyler County, where he lived, leading to a flood of calls to the local hospital asking if it was true, and how people could protect themselves.

The county sheriff's office contacted Brandlin to ask him to change his post, which he did, but it was too late as his claims were already being reposted across social media.

As a result, law enforcement announced that he would face criminal charges of false alarm, which triggered the expenditure of valuable resources at a time of crisis.

Brandlin turned himself in and spent a night in jail, after which he was released after a $1,000 bail bond was posted.

He said the consequences for him and his family have been huge:

Because of a Facebook post I lost my job, my health benefits. I couldn't start my masters programme on time due to not having the money. It has put a financial burden on my entire family because they are all trying to help me pay my bills.

Brandlin is currently awaiting trial.

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