|Misinformation can amplify humanity’s greatest challenges. A salient recent example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic, which has bred a multitude of falsehoods even as truth has increasingly become a matter of life-and-death. With the spread of misinformation, people has tended to take on wrong health care measures, downplayed the seriousness of the crisis, or attempted risky and untested ”cures” or ”prevention” methods at home; all of that leading to more harm than good.|
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in severe misinformation about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. Public health authorities have warned of the risk of Covid-19 misinformation and disinformation, while the World Health Organization has even gone so far as to call the problem an “infodemic.”
Internet is the largest and fastest source to obtain health information, and millions of people seek health information online every day. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic, people around the world are forced to stay at home and turn to the internet for work and to stay connected with others. As the Covid-19 outbreak continues, the need to obtain information about the disease, its prevention, and risk communication has become greater for people.
The ubiquitous social media landscape has created an information ecosystem chacacterized by true and false information on many topics.
The current period may be commented as “an era of fake news” in which misinformation, generated intentionally or unintentionally, spreads rapidly. Although affecting all areas of life, it poses particular problems in the health arena, where it can delay or prevent effective care, in some cases threatening the lives of individuals. The fake news spreads faster than the virus. The internet is the main information source worldwide; currently 2 billion people have access to it. Online health information has grown since the 1990s, becoming popular among nonhealth personnel users; nevertheless, most of the information on the internet is unregulated, and its quality remains questionable. For users with nonmedical education, it is difficult to judge the reliability of health information on the internet.
Misinformation can be defined as a “claim of fact that is currently false due to lack of scientific evidence”. It propagates without constraints, does not entail any curation or peer-review, and does not require any professional verifications. This makes it ideal to spread on social media and become amplified by the information silos and echo chambers of personally tailored content, particularly during times of public tension like the current Covid-19 epidemic.
Since December 2019, the Covid-19 epidemic has swept the world, causing significant burden and an increasing number of hospitalizations. While public health and healthcare officials rushed to identify and contain the spread of the virus, information was spreading uninhibited over traditional and social media platforms at a strikingly rapid pace. Both the impact of the disease and the lack of information associated with it allowed medical misinformation to rapidly surface and propagate on various social media platforms. Previous reports have highlighted a similar trend during recent public health emergencies, mainly the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, but during this pandemic this problem has become much more widespread. Such a phenomenon is alarming on both individual and public health.
We all have to check! It is only through all of us together that we can fight the crucial battle against misinformation.