Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Fake news and misinformation spreads faster than fact-based news. These false facts have cost us many lives.
Infodemic is a term created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the perils of misinformation during virus outbreaks. Just with an unconscious click or passive listening to the news, COVID-19 information overload is making us more vulnerable to stress and anxiety. Over 45% of the world's population currently uses smartphones. Many people wake up to an electronic screen every morning and look at it one last time before falling asleep every night. In the course of a day, we pick up our phones over 2,500 times (Mint, 2020). Our feeds are surrounded by death, a plunging economy, and we are left in limbo about when this chaos will end.
Understanding the spread of information along with the spread of the virus is important. Social media affects behavior – now more than ever. The COVID 19 epidemic shows the critical impact of new information on society and how we respond to it. Predicting behavior can lead to better public health policies and personal mental health. Social media platforms provide direct access to an unprecedented amount of content and amplifies rumors. We too often do not question what we read on someone’s tweet and have availability bias from the last tragedy we hear about the fight against coronavirus.
Fake news and misinformation spreads faster than fact-based news (Soroush, 2019). When the pandemic was beginning to emerge in the US, there was a slew of reporting that included how black people cannot get coronavirus, the virus will magically disappear, or bad protective policies. After President Trump announced Malaria’s chloroquine treatment may be effective against corona, a man took unprocessed chloroquine from his koi pond treatment and died. These false facts have cost us many lives.
It is imperative we are aware of the dangers of false information. Mass media can strongly influence human behavior and alter the effectiveness of the countermeasures deployed by governments (Cinelli et al., 2020). CNN anticipated a rumor in early March about the possible lock-down of Italy, publishing the news hours before the official announcements from the Italian Prime Minister. As a result, people overcrowded trains and airports to escape from northern Italy toward the southern regions before the lock-down was in place, disrupting the government initiative aimed to contain the epidemics. This made Italy one of the worst hit countries in the pandemic.
In 2003, when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a beta coronavirus just like COVID-19, broke out, none of the major social media outlets was around. Even though SARS death rate was ~20%, much higher than COVID-19’s ~3%, there was not as much paranoia surrounding the pandemic.
This is a call for individuals to check their sources and seek sound scientific information, With such an unregulated infodemic spreading apace, a global mental health crisis is impending. We must fight back by being aware of what the science and lead scientists are saying.
Cinelli, Matteo, Walter Quattrociocchi, Alessandro Galeazzi, Carlo Michele Valensise, Emanuele Brugnoli, Ana Lucia Schmidt, Paola Zola, Fabiana Zollo, and Antonio Scala. "The COVID-19 Social Media Infodemic." (2020). Web.
Surviving the covid-19 'infodemic'. (2020, Mar 13). Mint Retrieved from https://ezproxy-prd.bodleian.ox.ac.uk:2186/docview/2376551807?accountid=13042
Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinan Aral. The spread of true and false news online. Science, 359(6380):1146–1151, 2018.