Misinformation in the Time of the Pandemic

Even before the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on March 11, all kinds of information about the new virus was spreading, making the term going “viral” a literal reality. In fact, even before the pandemic was announced, the W.H.O was already working on strategies to combat what it called an “infodemic.”

According to a Situation Report issued by the W.H.O. in February 2020, an infodemic is “…an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” (W.H.O., “Novel Coronavirus(2019-nCoV): Situation Report – 13,” 2 February 2020.) Since the new virus appeared, tracking how the disease is being reported on has become as important as tracking the disease itself.

The virus has been moving fast around the globe. Misinformation and disinformation about the virus has been spreading equally fast through social media, news outlets, and other channels of communication. It seems every day at least one new thing is discovered about the virus. At at time when it’s critical to know what’s going on when and where, it can be difficult to discern which information sources to trust. There’s nothing new about these issues in the digital age, but the consequences could be more severe.

In some instances, people are intentionally posting sensational headlines about Covid-19 to attract an audience and drive traffic to their sites. In other scenarios, people are re-posting myths and rumors, or broadcasting poor quality or outdated information. And sometimes people (unfortunately sometimes those in influential positions) are just plain ignorant. For example, many major news sources and influential people promoted the benefits of a drug called hydroxychloroquine without any controlled testing having been done. Demand for the drug increased dramatically before interest in it waned.

It’s amazing to me that with so much information available at our fingertips, I’ve heard and read about people who think Covid-19 is a hoax. It seems crazy but it is possible to find places on the internet to support this idea.

At all times, but especially during a pandemic, maintaining your information hygiene is as important as proper hand washing and social distancing. Find a few trustworthy sites, such as the W.H.O. or another recognized and acclaimed health institution, and get updates directly.

For more reading including a link to a guide on evaluating information, check out my post on “Disinformation Misinformation.”

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