Trust in public institutions and in science is key to global public health — and for the most part, many countries still retain this trust, per Wellcome Global Monitor. But even this survey pointed out several months ago that misinformation on social media is itself a "real infection."
- And — because this particular outbreak is caused by a new virus with lots of scientific and medical unknowns — there's a higher level of fear added to the equation.
- This combined with increased social media savvy has created an "infodemic," according to WHO's director general. Another top WHO official recently said, "We need a vaccine against misinformation."
- Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Axios that it's "painful" to read some of the misinformation out there, ranging from fake garlic treatments, to shoddy non-peer-reviewed science studies, to conspiracy theories that the virus was engineered as a bioweapon.
What's happening: "People are very concerned about the coronavirus for a very good reason, [as] it's likely to turn into a pandemic," University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom tells Axios.
- But this is one of the first times the public has been able to see news unfolding about the spread of an epidemic in near real-time, he says....
Three main actors are driving misinformation: People trying to inform their friends and family without vetting the information; entities aiming to harm China's ruling government; and "longer-term actors in the disinformation space that find this an extremely useful vehicle ... to undermine trust in governments, NGOs and fact-based media," Bergstrom says.
- This is compounded by recent findings that false news can reach more people, faster, than true news.
- These include Russian and others' trolls or information bots that deliberately rile up anger and confusion because that leads to countries losing "the ability to conduct any kind of effective democratic government," Bergstrom adds.
- "If you put out a lot of mutually contradictory misinformation, people will [eventually] give up believing in their ability to find the truth," he says.
- His UW colleague Jevin West, who says there's an "information vacuum," also points out, "Propagandists and opportunists make money off these situations."
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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Eileen Drage O'Reilly at Axios: