Easy to be taken in by fake news
CORONAVIRUS: ‘DIGITAL PANDEMIC’ CAN BE COUNTERED
Authorities should fight back via social and mainstream media.
False allegations and rumours about the coronavirus outbreak have been running riot on social media and in some mainstream media. Misinformation is rampant and conspiracy theories have added to the confusion.
Examples include reports that the virus can kill a person in seconds and there has even been a photo showing dozens of coronavirus victims lying dead in the streets of Wuhan in China.
All of these claims have been shown to be false.
This sensationalist and alarming content creates what have become known as “digital pandemics” or “(mis)infodemics”. Their effect is to amplify public anxiety.
This can derail official efforts to provide credible information to the public.
Several factors fuel the spread of misinformation during outbreaks of infectious diseases. These include fear and the speed of social media.
As previous incidents like this have shown, it’s possible to counter the foolishness. But this requires scientists and public health officials to step up and to proactively use their platforms to convey accurate information.
Misinformation spreads fast when people are afraid. People rely on mental shortcuts when facing complex information and make instant decisions that are, unfortunately, often wrong.
Scientists need time to study a new disease and test potential treatments, but people may be desperate and impatient. As a result, it’s common for old home remedies and unproven treatments to be revived.
Ingrained negativity bias means that people love to share bad news.
A 2018 study confirms that false news travels farther, faster and more widely than the truth.
Editors and journalists no longer control the flow of news and opinion. Social media channels provide near-perfect vectors for misinformation to proliferate. Some social media tech giants claim that they are doing what they can to stop the spread of halftruths and outright falsehoods about the coronavirus.
For their part, most scientists are keen to combat misinformation.
Rather than lamenting the dangers of social media, scientists and public health officials should learn how to use it more effectively for frequent and reliable updates.
The mass media can also play a key role. Major media organisations are rising to the current coronavirus challenge by providing accurate information.
Marina Joubert is a science communication researcher, Stellenbosch University
Republished from The Conversation
KNOWLEDGE IS SAFETY. Students watch an instructional video on the coronavirus infection at a school in Kuwait City yesterday. More than 28 000 people have now been infected across China.