Infodemic In a Pandemic: A Killer Use of Information
BY: Suzann Abraham
2020 has been a statement year of catastrophes. Racial discrimination has taken on new heights, many have lost lives, and a simple organism not even visible to the naked eye is dominating humanity’s every thought, move, and reality. But there is one thing that pushes all these issues to an extreme. That is an infodemic.
In a nutshell, an infodemic is “an overload of information, often false or unverified, about a problem, especially a major crisis. Quickly spreading in the news and through social media, this information fuels fear and speculation, making problems worse rather than better.”1
This is a particular issue ever since COVID-19 began. The Director General of WHO stated in March, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.2 Many of the lies spread about COVID were the various “cures” and preventives. One such example of a falsehood that circulated the web was that hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria, can be used to cure patients suffering from the virus. The World Health Organization studied and concluded that its use without medical supervision can cause harmful side effects and must be avoided.3 In Nigeria, several admissions of hydroxychloroquine were reported causing Lagos state officials to warn people from using the drug. In March, a Vietnamese man, 43, was admitted into a poison control clinic after a mass hydroxychloroquine intake. The clinic director said that he was lucky to receive treatment quickly or else he would have died.4 Another myth was that the prolonged use of masks causes CO2 intoxication and oxygen deficiency. The WHO confirms that the prolonged use of a mask only makes the experience uncomfortable but it does not cause carbon dioxide intoxication or oxygen deficiency.3
One may think that there are not many who would believe these lies even after they are proven wrong. However, there are many cases where people risked their lives based on misunderstandings caused by misinformation. Brian Lee Hitchens and his wife believed that COVID-19 was a government method to distract them, so they refused to follow rules or even seek help. Both were later admitted to hospitals with Brian responding to interviews bedridden and his sedated wife under a ventilator. Online rumours were also the root cause for mob attacks in India and mass poisoning in Iraq. In Arizona, a couple thought that a bottle of fish tank cleaner contained a preventive medicine.4 These are only some examples.
There are several sources of misinformation. The biggest sources are social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Users who post memes or share posts that mock the virus also risk fuelling panic and confusion. Oftentimes, people do not know what is trustworthy for information and become vulnerable to manipulation and cybercrime.5 When the pandemic first began, a major source of confusion was the origins of the virus. Western governments began questioning the Chinese government on the origins and the extent of the pandemic in China. Beijing continued to deny such accusations but the disappearance of Chinese whistleblowers fuelled more speculation.5
Governments made many efforts to attack fake news regarding the coronavirus. In Asia, criminal prosecution measures were put in place. In Quebec, services such as Rumour Detector were made available to the public. The WHO used their network, EPI-WIN, to track misinformation in multiple languages.5 These efforts only prevent future rumours from gaining popularity and harming many. However, the ones that are already present have had a catastrophic effect on society. The infodemic is an issue without warnings and only comes to our attention with its results. Vigilance and thorough research seems to be the only way to combat this.5
This age is one of information and technology. Society gave a tremendous amount of attention to silenced issues such as racial discrimination, inequality, and mental health. This year, many of humanity’s accomplishments worked against one another and ruined millions. One example is how information worked to put nations against one another and led innocent people to harm.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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