The perils of misinformation in pandemic

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As information continues to emerge pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for the critical assessment of unverified information becomes increasingly important.

The world in the present day is a strange and surreal place following the wake of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic; as general anxiety tightens its grip around a struggling economy, millions of furloughed workers as well as families all across the nation have been thrust into times of financial uncertainty and emotional distress with no foreseeable end in sight. With daily televised briefings from the president and government officials as well as an abundance of COVID-19 coverage in the news and on the internet, it seems a difficult task to find reprieve from the onslaught of new information available.

As a result of this information overload and coupled with the dissemination of terminology such as fake news, some individuals have begun to search for alternative sources of information despite warnings from authority figures representative of local and state governments and qualified sources from the World Health Organization, (WHO) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In an article by Judson Brewer for Harvard Business Review, Brewer elaborates on the damage done by the spread of misinformation stating,

“While many people on social media have good intentions and intend to share useful information about Coronavirus with the masses, as they report supply shortages and speculate on how bad things might get, they may be inadvertently doing the opposite. Constantly scrolling through the latest news on your phone or desktop is like walking by people who are sneezing fear. The more you read, the more you are likely to take on their worry and spread it. The problem is that these emotions keep us from being able to think straight, and when overdone, they no longer protect us from dangers. Rather, they become the danger.”

Ostensibly, many individuals choose to discredit research and authority in the aegis of a self-important sense of preservation tinged with underlying hints of arrogance. This mentality of distrust and misunderstanding that permeates the modern internet age appears to be an underlying symptomatic condition that both empowers the individual to make choices and yet wildly increases vulnerability at the expense of others as is evident in the bewildering pace at which unverified and poorly sourced information is spread and subsequently relied on as factual.

An example of COVID-19 misinformation. (Screenshot)

“People are very lenient with the information they receive and that’s a major problem,” says Brandee Tamika Flores, a healthcare provider at Barstow Community Hospital. “There’s a distinct lack of consideration for the ones that would be most affected by the virus and that combined with the misinformation that’s going around is just a recipe for disaster. People panic and when people panic, mistakes are made.”

It is imperative that individuals exercise extreme caution when vetting questionable information that they receive regarding safe practices during times of pandemic. Given the gravity of the pandemic and the demonstrable ease at which it has proven to disrupt societal norms, the cause for concern is plainly evident.

5G Coronavirus Conspiracy “proof” (Screenshot)

In a widely circulated post on Instagram, directions on how to execute a thorough cleanse of the coronavirus pathogen through the process of gargling all manner of questionable liquids such as bleach, hand sanitizer and pickle juice has been shared throughout the platform. Whispers of COVID-19 conspiracy theories pertaining to QAnon, 5G radiation and holistic coronavirus cures as proposed by anti-vaxxers are both plentiful and common.

Elsewhere on TikTok, arbitrary claims of teenagers becoming infected with the virus are commonplace and are pursued for the purpose of obtaining a fleeting sense of recognition among the users of the platform. Similarly, hashtags such as #filmyourhospitalchallenge and #coronaviruschallenge show teenagers partaking in highly-questionable activities for a shot at becoming an internet celebrity.

A purported COVID-19 cure sold through Facebook marketplace. (Screenshot)

Even Facebook, the world’s most popular social media platform is being subjected to an incomprehensible amount of posts pertaining to fake coronavirus cures, rumors of government lock-down, the implementation of martial law and an extremely dangerous home sanitation recipe that guarantees the elimination of the coronavirus pathogen and calls for mixing copious amounts of ammonia and bleach.

While these posts and videos are clearly malicious in nature, the abundance of exposure that the posts receive serve only as a prime example of the necessity for the general public to be wary when dealing with any information that comes from an unverified source. By exercising a policy of caution with incoming information from illegitimate sources, refusing to share dubious information and maintaining a degree of sensibility we may collectively just see through to the other side.