It is now clear that Covid19 pandemic is more severe than the global public would have expected. There is almost no single country without at least dozens of infected cases. Even though epidemiologists supported by the WHO are trying to determine the patient-zero to be able to more effectively cope with the crisis. In this expert-based process, not all the information that are sent to public are trustworthy. Unfortunately, there are two paths for disseminating the fake news: intentionally and unintentionally (due to personal non-qualifications, nor education).
Infodemic is a new term coined to describe the misinformation placing during the crisis. This text will review what other media are stating regarding this problem, and will infodemic influence the future occurrences after the Covid19 pandemic is over?
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of foreign policy and security experts in Munich, Germany, in mid- February, referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”
WHO explains that infodemics are an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution. They can spread misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency. The United Nations’ official website states that “infodemics can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.
In response, a team of WHO “mythbusters” are working with search and media companies like Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Tencent, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and others to counter the spread of rumours, which include misinformation like that the virus cannot survive in the hot weather, that taking a high dose of chloroquine medication can protect you, and that consuming large quantities of ginger and garlic can prevent the virus”.
What makes COVID 19 different from SARS AND MERSCOV, however, is not only its initial size but the milieu into which it was born. COVID 19 is now at a stage when it is likely going to be declared a pandemic and described with many others — thanks to social media. When SARS AND MERSCOV were infecting people, the younger generation were only beginning to surf the Internet and use the original cell phone. Social media was still an infant.
But now, a WHO official warns that false news was “spreading faster than the virus”. Claims are made that the virus is spread by eating bat soup or could be cured by garlic. A WHO official has met officials of tech companies at Facebook’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, including those from Google, Apple, Airbnb, Lyft, Uber and Sales force. Earlier he held talks with Amazon at the e-commerce giant’s headquarters in Seattle.
In rapidly changing crises and times of information overload, fear and desperation abound. This can shake people’s confidence in authoritative sources, which is acutely dangerous when the public’s access to trustworthy information is potentially a matter of life or death. The persistence of such news is also symbolic of a new kind of narrative in which people take immense pride. Thus, even if fake, they will propagate it and anyone who questions them on its veracity will be trolled. More worrying is the fact that elected legislators or people prominent in public life tweet or retweet it, thus lending it respectability and authenticity.
Despite the best efforts of health professionals and elected officials – who have answered online queries and debunked misconceptions of the coronavirus – research shows that the acceptance and rise of conspiracy theories are related to moments of crisis in society. People look for meaning and ways to cope during periods of uncertainty.
Some entertaining theories claim that cartoons prophesied the outbreak, or overstate the ‘miracle properties’ of vodka, cocaine, and onions, which can supposedly “removes all viruses and bacteria including the coronavirus.” However, there is a real danger in endorsing pseudo-scientific claims and alternative treatments as legitimate health advice when preventive behaviour is perceived with scepticism and as optional.