COVID-19 has already killed 773,000 people but a bigger catastrophe is looming
In April 2020, there were 5,376 causalities and 76,000 newly recorded cases globally; yet Facebook reported that it had flagged nearly 50 million pieces of contents related to COVID-19 with warning label for disinformation, while Twitter faced over 1.5 million users spreading false information. In the same vein, Google reported blocking over 18 million scam emails sent out about the coronavirus on Gmail. As covid-19 related misinformation, rumors, stigma, and conspiracy theories circulated these media outlets, curious stories of people drinking bleach, highly concentrated alcohol and eating cow dung in the hope of disinfecting their bodies heightened the casualties and global chaos.
Amid the global crisis spurred COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing another crunch triggered by an Infodemic. An Infodemic is characterized by an excessive amount of information, concerning a problem, including wide and rapid spread of misinformation, such that the solution is made more difficult. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan Province in China, December 2019, the Infodemic has wildly spread and activated conditions that enable the spread of disinformation, fake news, hoaxes, and distorted contents that have fomented fears, chaos and divided communities.
Following the global lockdown restrictions, social distancing rules and disruption of social and physical contacts among families, friends, colleagues and people have turned to traditional and social media to connect. In these times of great anxiety and uncertainty, conspiracy theories have provided solace and reassurance that the global populace desperately needs. This in turn has accelerated the sharing of unverified information, proliferation of fake news, misleading and harmful advice along with stigmatization and discrimination against carriers of the Covid-19 disease.
At the heart of these conversations on the rise of the Infodemic, is Dr. Lola Dare, the President of CHESTRAD Global, speaking at the NSF UK Webinar (Include link), Dr. Lola pointed out to members that “we are fighting an Infodemic in the midst of a pandemic”. On August 12, 2020, CHESTRAD Global in collaboration with The International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH) formally began the conversation on the impacts and management of Infodemics in a webinar (‘Infodemics, the Tsunami of the Pandemic’). Describing the Infodemic as a cause for extreme concern, the Communications and Brand representative CHESTRAD Global said the objective of the webinar and subsequent conferences is to empower the public to reflect on the effect of Infodemic arising incited by the pandemic and champion the cause for changing the narrative through useful and quality information, and from credible sources.
In her presentation about Infodemics, Dr. Lola reiterated that bursting the myths and checking the facts were the surest vaccines against the Infodemic. Co-organizer of the webinar, Mrs. Moji Makanjuola, the Executive Director of ISMPH furthered the discussion after noting that public trusts in health and media institutions are being undermined; the media and health practitioners were facing serious credibility challenge, as the volume of false online information continues to exacerbate. As members present were a cross breed of global health actors and media professionals, speakers took time to reflect on the effects of the Infodemic in their professional spaces, and the part they had played in exacerbating the Infodemic .
Bursting the Myths
While the imperative lies at diluting the pool of misinformation with factual, evidence-based information, an Infodemic is particularly insidious because grains of truth are incorporated. We are living in a time of digital transformation where everyone is a content creator and health expert, the onus is no longer on professional journalists or health professionals and the government to uphold the values of expertise, ethics, and accountability, it now falls on the communicator and recipient to determine if the source is credible, legitimate and trustworthy.
In addressing how to curb the spread of the Infodemic in an emotionally charged global environment, Dr. Lola encouraged health experts, media practitioners and their outlets, government officials and concerned citizens to check that all contents disseminated are factually correct, stating that the only way to counter misinformation is by scrutinizing every content that will be churned out for public consumption.
Akin to the efforts of the UN and other global development organizations to utilize campaigns, dedicated websites, videos, graphics, and multimedia materials that provide accurate, evidence-based and verified information to fight the scourge of misinformation. CHESTRAD Global has launched its ComCOVID resource hub to provide a citizen led health and social protection support in the fight against the virus through trusted and accurate, media and informative content. Through its dedicated webpages, the ComCOVID resource hub will provide a wealth of information, including advice on checking symptoms, contact details of health centers and directories for checking and verifying additional information.
In speaking about the ComCovid initiative, Dr. Ibrahim Yisa of CHESTRAD Global echoed that it is a community effort with a focus on vulnerable people and economic sectors; he said that the initiative will amplify the need for early testing and contact tracing, complemented by quarantines, isolation, treatment and other measures to keep first responders and health workers safe.
The effects of the pandemic cannot be denied. Instantaneous and integrated efforts from the global, political, corporate, scientific, and civil communities are required to rebuild public trust and maintain the integrity and credibility of our institutions. ‘Whether you are in health, media, finance, political or civil service fields, the idea is that everyone must counter the scourge of misinformation with accurate, science-based evidence and verified information from credible and trusted sources, in fighting the pandemic, said Dr. Lola. Ultimately, global citizens must understand that stigma, misleading and inaccurate information on Covid-19 can be as lethal as the disease itself, curbing the Infodemic is not just about fighting misinformation, it is contingent on the hope of a more informed, unified, and socially conscious public.
You can download Dr. Lola’s Presentation at the webinar HERE