What a challenging time we live in! We are simultaneously fighting two pandemics. COVID-19, and, the dangerous misinformation that has come with it. Both are deadly, and both spread very easily. Like you, I have been paying special attention to the news and am constantly praying for the sick, healthcare workers and everyone that has been affected by this global pandemic. Also, sadly, I’ve seen so much disinformation spread about this pandemic on social media. I really appreciate the insight in this great article from the PBS NewsHour. It helped me see why times like this are so fraught with misinformation.
“Uncertainty is inherent to the problem,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public. “We don’t know certain basic things about the virus, and we don’t know when certain treatments are going to be available”…For weeks, COVID-19 has dominated news coverage, inundating the public with near constant updates about the virus and its widespread impact as scientists’ understanding of it has changed in real-time…“We don’t have experts on COVID-19, because it literally just emerged four months ago,” said Dhavan Shah, the director of the Mass Communication Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The facts are shifting so quickly…With what Shah called the “unique challenge” for public health officials trying to stay up to date, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out any information to make sense out of the confusion, leading some to dubious sources or claims.”
I’m sympathetic to people’s worries and insecurities. It’s completely understandable that we all want to look for information that gives us understanding. However, just like being in large crowds makes it more likely to spread the COVID-19 virus, social media has made it easier to spread dangerous misinformation. According to this 2018 study, misinformation spreads on social media six times faster than the truth does!
We know we can help stop the spread of the virus by washing our hands, avoiding contact with others and exercising good hygiene and social distancing. What can we do to help stop the spread of misinformation on social media?
Again from the PBS Newshour:
“… prioritize information coming directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local officials about the spread and response to COVID-19. Both the CDC and WHO provide daily reports on the number of confirmed virus cases, as well as up-to-date resources and research on the disease. While it can be difficult to sift through information on social media, announcements coming directly from the social media accounts of your governor, for example, can likely be trusted.”
We have probably all seen the misinformation on social media. From bogus conspiracy theories on how the virus began, to faux cures, and even the comparison of government quarantine efforts to the holocaust. We each need to do our part to lessen the spread of both of these modern plagues.