The dangers of COVID misinformation and how we can deal with it

  • The emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been accompanied by a new wave of misinformation being shared online.
  • Misinformation, not all of which is shared maliciously, can undermine public health efforts to control the global pandemic.
  • The fight against fake news must happen at all levels and must be focused on accurate and positive messages.

The rise of Omicron has been accompanied by a new wave of misinformation as people around the world have learned new lessons about how to live with COVID-19 and how to make decisions in their daily lives. But what are the dangers of this disinformation and how can we combat it?

The first case of Omicron was announced in South Africa on November 26, 2021 and the number of cases has skyrocketed worldwide as the variant is between two to four times more contagious like the previously dominant strain, Delta.

But what may have been different this time around was that many people had received vaccines compared to when the Delta variant emerged, meaning there were fewer deaths and fewer deaths. hospital admissions.

At the same time, restrictions in many parts of the world have been gradually eased after months of government-mandated lockdowns – forcing the individual to find strategies to stay safe.

Omicron and test confusion

Some suggest that the accompanying a new wave of misinformation largely linked to testing, while previous spikes focused on vaccines, masks and disease severity.

It may be too early to draw firm conclusions on specific trends, but the current focus on testing – correct or not – likely reflects broader confusion and unease around COVID-19 as we enter the third year of the pandemic.

“I think people ask about the tests because it’s very confusing because the policies are very different depending on what country you’re in, where you get them, if you need them, why you need them. . People are just trying to figure out what to do,” says Heidi J Larson, professor of anthropology, risk and decision science at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Not all false information is shared maliciously

Some of the misinformation about COVID is being shared by groups with a political or ideological motive. Indeed, the Center for Countering Digital Hate recently found that two-thirds of anti-vaccination propaganda posted online was created by just 12 influencers, most of whom claimed to be political or medical leaders and were based in the United States.

But misinformation is not always misinformation, the latter being shared with the intent to deceive. Instead, much of what is shared online is often the work of people simply trying to figure out what they are supposed to do within ever-changing guidelines and regulations.

Also, increases in new (erroneous/dis) information throughout the pandemic tend to be accompanied by a sharing of previous posts, which has led to vast amounts of advice and data – official and unofficial. official – flooding the Internet. So it’s a growing problem.

“We are at a time when so much information is trying to be generated and people are trying to understand their risk. Obviously people are very tired with COVID and it’s like, how do I make decisions for my day-to-day life? says Connie Moon Sehat, general researcher at Hacks/Hackers.

COVID Misinformation Affects Healthcare Decisions

Why is this important? Misinformation about COVID-19, especially about how to reduce its spread, is a problem because it threatens to undermine public health efforts to keep the pandemic under control.

“Health-related misinformation is particularly dangerous because it affects health decisions and behaviors,” says Professor Larson. “It’s pretty serious and in the context of a pandemic it’s even more serious because it’s not just about your own health decision and behavior – it affects groups of people. “

Anti-vaccine content, for example, could encourage those who are already hesitant not to be vaccinated, putting them at higher risk of serious illness and death. Meanwhile, misinformation about rapid tests could lead to questions about their reliability and discourage their use at a time when many are recommending regular testing to reduce the spread.

There are arguably also broader societal concerns. Misinformation also threatens our ability and rights as citizens to make informed choices about issues as important as our own health. It can also undermine, or further undermine, trust in governments and democratic and/or public institutions at a time when they are particularly vital.

“I feel like it’s a loss of power over his health, but also over the health of his community, all at the same time,” says Moon Sehat.

How to fight COVID misinformation

The fight against the spread of COVID misinformation must be waged at all levels of society, but must be conducted in a positive and non-combative way to be successful.

Social media obviously plays an important role in combating COVID misinformation as the online platforms where it is widely shared and amplified, and major players have quickly created a a coordinated response to combat it. Two years later, the Spotify streaming platform has just announced crackdown plans following criticism on Joe Rogan podcast.

But fighting its spread takes more than tech giants and everyone has a role to play – from policymakers to community leaders and individuals. However, we need to step back from simple fact-checking and offer correct alternatives surrounded by more positive health messages, says Professor Larson.

“Because the reason people gobble up some of the misinformation is because they don’t tell a better story. We need to give a better story with the right information,” says Professor Larson. For example, rumors about the use of unauthorized drugs such as chloroquine to treat COVID should be surrounded by messages about his misdeeds.

An additional complication is that Omicon has also triggered uncertainty about the meaning of the definition of “fully vaccinated”, as many countries have launched recall campaigns in response to the fast-spreading variant. This, observes Moon Sehat, has somewhat obscured positive messages about the quality or potential benefits of vaccination – and that, in turn, has left a void in public debate.

The first global pandemic in over 100 years, COVID-19 has spread across the globe at unprecedented speed. As of this writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died from the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the longer-term economic, trade, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group , launched his COVID-19 Risk Outlook: Preliminary Mapping and Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report finds that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating business risk perception.

Companies are invited to join the work of the Forum to help manage identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across all sectors to shape a better future. Read all COVID-19 Risk Outlook: Preliminary Mapping and Implications Report Here, and our impact story with further information.

“And where there’s a void or an absence, or a void, that’s where there’s space for misinformation, because there’s space for fear, there’s space for speculation and rumor and everyone who normally tries to control this situation,” she explains.

Most people just want to know when the pandemic will end and want a roadmap for how to make decisions in the meantime. Although the eventual solution is not yet known, clear and positive public health messages will continue to be essential.

Comments are closed.