Protect yourself from the spread of misinformation
By Jessica Berget, Editor-in-Chief
In this time of uncertainty, most of us look to our local news for information in making sense of what is happening in the world. Unfortunately, we can’t even rely on the news too much to inform and educate us. The amount of misinformation and fake facts circulating on news platforms and social media about this epidemic is almost as harmful as the virus itself.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), also attested to the danger of the fake news surrounding the virus at a Munich security conference. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous” he said. In fact, according to a 2018 study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), fake news (on twitter) is spread faster than real news and is about 70 percent more likely to be reposted than real news.
According to Statista as of 2017, 77 percent of Canadians go online and 44 percent use social media to get their news. This is alarming since social media is a breeding ground for fake news and alarmism. This misinformation can make us react in ways that may not be helpful or possibly make things even worse—undermining the reality or actual danger of the virus.
As we have heard many times about the symptoms of COVID-19 and the importance of being able to recognize them and distancing ourselves from others, we should also be taking misinformation into account and distancing ourselves from it to stop it. Here are some fake news stories on the current pandemic and the symptoms they are capable of generating in society at large.
Misinformation about this virus can not only cause more fear and panic for the public, but a UK study shows it can also make disease outbreaks worse. We all make our decisions based on the information we receive, so when we are given incorrect or false information, we might not make rational or logical decisions due to the severity of the false facts.
In India, the fear of this illness has already had deadly affects—even in those people who don’t have it. One man hung himself to protect his family after watching videos about coronavirus all day because he believed he had the same symptoms—despite doctors and loved ones telling him that he didn’t. This man was reading true information, yet he still felt a great panic. This story of a terrifying true fact gives good reason to believe that very dramatic false facts could wreak a lot of havoc in society. To prove that this idea has weight, one must look no further than Novi Sanzhary, Ukraine.
According to Forbes, this once small town turned into chaos last month as protestors attempted to block evacuees coming from China to a medical centre for quarantine. Roads were blocked and there were clashes with police which resulted in nine officers and one civilian being injured—and 24 people arrested. A mix of miscommunication from the city’s authorities and misinformation being spread on social media concocted a lethal brew of anxiety which lead to a full-fledged panic.
We have also all heard about people stockpiling and hoarding essentials for fear of the virus and how long we will be quarantined for. Many people are already in panic mode and reading about false information or fake claims about coronavirus escalates the situation.
Some news could make you more afraid or untrustworthy of people around you—making you afraid to go places you need to go. One popular post circulating the internet claimed that there were 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus at Metropolis in Metrotown, and this was proven to be false. Posts like these can incite fear in people who were at this mall recently and might make them believe that they or members of their family have the illness. It may also make people fearful of going to the mall even if they need to go to pick up prescriptions, groceries, or other necessities. Posts like this cause tons of unnecessary stress to the public.
There was another internet rumour about ibuprofen not being safe to take as it can worsen the effects of coronavirus. However, there was a lot of controversy around this claim as there is a lack of evidence suggesting a link between the pain reliever and effects of the illness. The WHO even cleared the air about this on their Twitter, saying that they do not recommend against the use of it. These lies could influence people who need to regularly take these supplements as prescribed by their doctors to stop taking them in fear of getting infected—and possibly make them worse. In turn, more people could get sick from not taking their medicine because of misinformation—and this is the last thing hospitals and doctors should have to deal with at this time.
FALSE HOPE OR NO HOPE AT ALL
Some of these posts depict animals coming back to places where humans once dominated. Many say mother nature and animals are taking the earth back since many people are staying inside because of quarantines. While these stories of fish and dolphins coming back to Venice river or elephants coming into towns and getting drunk and falling asleep in gardens may be seen as cute or positive—they’ve been debunked. These stories serve as a fearmongering, or rather “joy-mongering” to dramatize the impact of humans on the environment and ultimately provides a false sense of happiness or hope that there is something good about this virus or us having to stay quarantined. What’s the harm in news that makes you happy, even if it is fake? It is always good to have a positive perspective, but false hope is exactly that—it’s false. Lies that mask the truth are harmful because the truth is necessary for a smart and meaningful perspective on the world.
Also circulating the internet is a bunch of fake “cures” for the coronavirus including things like avoiding dairy, eating citrus, or gargling warm salt water—or that there is already a cure for the virus, which is untrue. While these things might be good to ease the pain of a common cold or flu, they are definitely not good measurements people should be taking if they think they have COVID-19. Furthermore, if people believe there is a cure for coronavirus, they may not take the social distancing and isolation warnings as seriously as they should and possibly infect people who are at risk.
DO I HAVE IT? WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I GET IT? PREVENT SPREADING IT
Many social media sites have now taken precautions to stop the spread of misinformation, but we can’t always rely on the internet. So, how do you know news you see on the internet is false? And how can you stop it? First, don’t believe everything you read on social media. If you see a post about coronavirus that looks like it was typed into a notepad and screenshotted, it’s probably not a legitimate source and it should be fact-checked. (In theory, all information should be fact-checked against multiple sources.) More importantly, don’t share it unless it is backed up by another reliable source.
Some reliable sources to look at currently are the WHO, Centre for Disease Control (CDC), or the Government of Canada. It’s also essential to note that the things listed in this article are the fake claims made about coronavirus up until the date of publication. There will always be more info coming out as the situation changes, so it’s important to be vigilant about consuming the facts on COVID-19.