How Social Media Is Affecting Our Knowledge of COVID-19
Written by: Deekshita Behara l Originally published on April 15, 2020
On February 15th, WHO (Word Health Organization) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.” An infodemic (shorthand for information epidemic) is an overabundance of information, and while some information may be accurate, most is not. This makes it difficult for the public to determine who is trustworthy and where to find reliable guidance.
The reason for the spread of misinformation is simply that fake news is more extreme and tends to evoke more emotions. False claims are generally more novel and elicit feelings of surprise or disgust. This emotional charge is the reason behind the spread of this misinformation.
Recently, a tweet stating that onions can help prevent the contraction of the virus was retweeted over 400,000 times. That means more than 400,000 people really think that consuming an onion has the effect stated when in reality it doesn’t. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 showed that false news on twitter was retweeted more than 100,000 times, while true stories were retweeted more than 1000 times at most. But people are missing the whole point of news - to effectively and correctly relay facts and data.
In order to get an insight into the public’s knowledge of COVID-19, the Reboot Foundation conducted a survey and discovered the following observations :
Almost a third of the public sampled believe in COVID-19 myths. Considering that there are over 300 million people in the United States right now, the sampling can be used to estimate that over 100 million people in the United States alone believe these misconceptions.
More time spent on social media is shown to correlate to being more misinformed. 22% of people who checked social media occasionally considered myths to be true, whereas 36% of people who checked social media frequently considered myths to be true, a 14% difference.
Although social media is said to be a weak source of COVID-19 information, people still continue to post. In fact, the number of virus-related posts is increasing. The Reboot research team studied social media posts and their relation to COVID-19, to find out that over 1000 tweets relating to the virus were sent out per minute.
It is said that there are benefits to the increased use of social media at this time - mainly to allow the public to, “talk its way through what is an unprecedented kind of threat,” as stated by Jeff Hancock, director of the Stanford Social Media Lab. However, it is important to realize that misinformation simply makes dealing with the virus more difficult than it already is.
In the end, there is no silver bullet to fighting this infodemic, but we can do our best in stopping the spread of misinformation through fact-checking. As part of a solution to this infodemic, WHO has posted multiple infographics that can be found on their Facebook page. These infographics range from debunking myths to quarantine-related parenting tips to ways to protect yourself from the virus.
In addition, many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have been doing their part by checking any relevant information posted and removing posts if they falsely claim an idea. You can do your part as well, by letting people know if the information they are sharing is wrong, so they can let others know of this misinformation and most importantly - fact-checking.
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