During the current crisis we face as a nation, the only thing making it worse is the internet. While it is a great source of communication for everyone worldwide, it is also a great source of false information. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more are at the center of the false information pandemic. The director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is calling this the “coronavirus infodemic.” Everyone should be taking this virus very seriously, but keep in mind not everyone is an expert. The rumors and falsehoods need to be kept to a minimum, if not ceased altogether.
Misinformed at the Worst Time
According to Ghebreyesus, this “infodemic” has put an outbreak response in jeopardy. More so, it causes further confusion among the public about who and what sources they can really trust. This will only generate even more fear and panic among the public due to exaggerated claims. Information procured by any regular teenager or college student should not be trusted or shared. Unfortunately, this information spreads faster than anything that has been fact-checked by an expert. Government and public health experts are doing everything they can during these trying times to keep everyone well-informed and prepared for what comes next. Not only now, but for the distant future, experts in all fields stress how important it is that social media users consider their sources. Rumors and hoaxes are the most damaging forms of misinformation. Typically, these are deliberate measures of misinforming the public to make them believe something or someone is causing them to panic for no reason. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, false remedies have spread like wildfire around the internet, none of these can be true as scientists are only just learning about the virus themselves.
Potential Outbreak Outcomes
At times like this, we find that we have more questions than answers. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is new to everyone and professionals are being cautious about presenting any new information to the public. Consequently, humans have very little patience and demand answers right away. The trouble with this is that we need to be able to get the correct information, in a timely manner. Researchers associated with TheConversation.com state that “a post-truth society is one in which subjective opinions and unverified claims rival valid scientific and biomedical facts in their public influence.” The reason behind a carefully crafted statement by the government and leading scientific experts is precisely so it won’t be misinterpreted or taken out of context. The time that it takes to create an informed statement seems years longer than it takes to spread something through the media. At times like this, it is of the utmost importance that we wait for official word and ignore what we read on social media.
A Portal for Misinformation
The epidemic of 2003 was the SARS outbreak, and with social media a non-factor during that time, text messaging was where the false information spread. The government sent out many warnings about spreading falsehoods, but rumors of an “atypical pneumonia” still spread like wildfire. At the beginning of that epidemic, as well as this one, the Chinese government worked hard to remove any information, true or false, reported by news media or social media influencers. In the U.S., however, freedom of speech still stands and no one can regulate the spreading of false information except social media users themselves. This will not be the last epidemic we face, and the influence of social media will only get worse. Coordinated global response strategies need to be put in place and social media platforms need to be at the center of these strategies. Digital corporations and social media platforms’ willingness to collaborate with medical professionals, as well as government officials, is a must. Without the cooperation of media platforms, the confusion and panic surrounding COVID-19 will only intensify. Before making rash decisions during this epidemic, read the facts and consult a professional. If someone is Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook “famous” they likely do not have a Ph.D.