DISINFORMATION, misinformation — words that are interchangeably used during the Covid-19 crisis.
So much is unknown about the virus. Not only are we battling a pandemic, we are also crossing swords with infodemic — a term that has come to mean an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for the public to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading ones.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) started using it last month to refer to mostly false information about Covid-19.
Infodemic has gained much notoriety in the wake of Covid-19 — its mix of sketchy facts, untested cures, speculation and conspiracy theories is a potent cocktail that has caused global panic and distress — it is the last thing we need in the face of this spiralling global health calamity.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it well at the Munich Security conference last month when Covid-19 cases were mostly found in China: “Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous. If we don’t tackle this, we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony.”
An ominous prognosis. But look at where we are now, in the midst of a pandemic that has taken the world by storm and people dropping like flies.
As the virus spreads across the globe, a wildfire of false and unverified information about Covid-19 is spreading, too.
On WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, we read messages with misleading or doctored information. From warnings to exaggerated and extraordinary measures the government might implement to “force” people to stay at home, to false numbers of deaths and the “unpreparedness” of medical services.
Infodemic has crept into the mainstream; it has detracted the international community from the emergency task at hand, which is to try and get ahead of the curve to check the spread of the virus.
Reducing the spread of misinformation, especially on social media, has been a major challenge for the international medical fraternity.
Misinformation and disinformation have made even doubting Thomases believers. Some laughable examples: a fish dish of clear soup (sup ikan singgang) can repel the coronavirus, or rasam, the spicy Indian soup, is said to ward off viruses because of certain ingredients that purportedly contain anti-viral and healing properties, or the viralled video that claimed vinegar was more effective than hand sanitisers against the coronavirus.
Every single one of these assertions is either unconfirmed or untrue.
Understandably, we are harassed daily by a barrage of hoaxes and misleading information.
This Leader urges readers to be more discerning of the information received. Behave responsibly. Stop sharing news from unverified sources. Trust in the mainstream media in times like this — be assured that our news are from official sources.
By now we should be able to differentiate what is real and what is not. Education and a bit of trust in modern medicine can help prevent the spread of panic or hysteria. Indeed, a bit of online self-discipline is required.
Do not give purveyors of misinformation and disinformation the time of day.