Amid the global health meltdown brought on by the coronavirus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has something else on its mind: the infodemic.
The term “infodemic” is fairly broad. It encapsulates everything from inaccurate information shared by your auntie to cyber attacks carried out by rogue states on hospitals’ critical information systems.
The main concern shared by both WHO and the UN is that this infodemic will hamper an effective public health response, creating confusion and distrust among people during this crisis.
Misinformation spread about politics is one thing, but conspiracy theories shared about the vaccine has already had an effect. A study conducted by the Associated Press and NORC found that 31% of respondents say they are unsure if they will get vaccinated, while 20% said they would flat out refuse.
If there is a significant number of people who are not willing to be vaccinated then the cure can lose its effectiveness. Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said 75% of people need to get vaccinated in order for us to return to anything that resembles normality.
Threats made against Dr Fauci demonstrate the dangers of this infodemic. Wild theories circulated online about the 79-year-old being part of a “deep state” elite attempting to implement a new world order only go to prove that nobody, not even America’s leading public health expert, is safe from fake news.
Most of the misinformation and disinformation spread online revolves around the concept that the virus is nowhere near as serious as health officials are saying, or that Covid was created by the Chinese to damage the global economy while they prosper.
The issue is that for a lot of people, these conspiracy theories offer a very clear answer as to what is going on at a very confusing time. They allow the believers to point the blame on something rather than accept this global health crisis as a natural disaster.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the spread of misinformation during the pandemic will cost lives. We should be listening to doctors and scientists at a time when an increasing amount of people are sceptical of experts.