As videos and posts that carry false, fake, and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic are making rapid rounds on various social media platforms, many young people are having a hard time convincing their family members, neighbours, colleagues and even friends that the virus and its risks are real as well as dangerous.
The spread of misinformation is so rampant that even educated people are having a hard time keeping up.
COVID-19 is a novel virus and so new information or developments about it emerge almost on a daily basis. The facts surrounding the virus, its impacts, preventive measures, and treatment methods are ever changing. Hence, one has to keep tabs of authentic and credible sources of information about the virus.
Social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Tiktok as well as some online news portals have been major actors in helping spread misinformation about coronavirus.
The Nepali population, especially the older generation, is comparatively new to technology and new media. So, they tend to believe anything and everything they find on their timeline. But it would not be accurate to classify victims of misinformation with only age or education status.
While Nepal is not alone in this trying time of infodemic amid a pandemic, people from several developed countries across the world like Germany, USA, Finland, and Ireland among others have also fallen victims to misinformation and conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19, and staged ‘anti-COVID’ or ‘anti-mask’ rallies.
Those not equipped with methods to skim information usually fall prey to infodemic.
Infodemic is an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that occurs during an epidemic. It can lead to confusion and ultimately mistrust in governments and public health response.
The right message at the right time from the right messenger through the right medium can save lives but misinformation or mixed messages can cost lives.
The history of public health in the 20th and 21st century is full of examples of how misinformation caused harm during outbreaks and continued to do damage in trust in health authorities long afterward.
The stakes are higher in a digitized world, where misinformation and mixed messages overwhelm individuals and communities, that too at an exceedingly fast pace. This is not just a communication problem, but it requires a full rethinking of evidence-based approaches to infodemic management, putting people and communities at the center, according to the World Health Organization.
Infodemic can be managed when communities and individuals are empowered to be resilient against misinformation, and have the skills and self-efficacy to recognize low-quality information and enact healthy behaviors.
“The global fight against the COVID-19 infodemic should be treated as a scientific discipline on par with understanding the spread of the disease itself, since behavior change is critical to every pandemic response,” WHO says.
Fact-checking and looking for credible sources are not regular habits, they need to be gradually developed. Calling out friends and family if and when they share misinformation is also an efficient way to tackle the spread of fake news.