COVID-19 in Toilet Paper Meme

Around March 9 2020, a meme joking about “COVID-19 found in toilet paper” began spreading on Imgur, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites:

On what looked like a screengrab of a news site or television news, text read:

Breaking News

COVID-19 Found in Toilet Paper

[3:30] Strain of deadly virus breeds rapidly in tissue fibers

To most users, the humorous was apparent. After days of social media posts about people hoarding toilet paper globally due to outbreaks of novel coronavirus or COVID-19, someone created a joke about toilet paper being the source of new coronavirus  infections.

A link between COVID-19 and toilet paper initially stemmed entirely from first reports of hoarding, and then news about retailer management of toilet paper stock. Houston-based news organization KHOU consulted a psychology expert, who opined that panic purchases of toilet paper were real, but irrational:

“This is very much at times a lot about copycat behavior … If you see someone in the store stocking up on toilet paper, you are thinking, ‘OK. I should do that. That seems to be a good idea. I’ll do it.’”

In response to the run on toilet paper thanks to coronavirus fears, Wegman’s limited purchases in its stores. That organization noted the impulse purchase of toilet paper was, again, not entirely rational:

Wegmans has set a limit on how much toilet paper its customers can buy at one time in response to COVID-19 panic shopping.

Customers can buy only one, 30-roll family pack of Wegmans-brand bath tissue and soft bath tissue, the company announced Tuesday.

It’s not clear why so many shoppers are buying up toilet paper in response to growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

As of March 9 2020, social media users were well aware of ongoing toilet paper hoarding due to COVID-19, hence the joke. But the some of the same panic-purchasers appeared to take the “breaking news” meme about coronavirus in toilet paper seriously. The fact-checkers at Lead Stories located the meme’s origin — which was a prank news generator — and reported:

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) generated from the Break Your Own News website. An example posted on March 9, 2020, featured an image that mimicked a screenshot from a TV news report with a “LIVE” banner.

Although it seemed most people understood the “COVID-19 in toilet paper” meme to be a joke about the irrationality of panic purchases unrelated to outbreaks, some apparently mistook the screenshot for real news. Per Lead Stories, the image was generated using a site called Break Your Own News.