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The Impact of COVID-19 Misinformation Since the Pandemic

Dina Faisal Dina Faisal
22nd January 2022
The Impact of COVID-19 Misinformation Since the Pandemic
COVID-19 misinformation appears to stem from fear (GETTY).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

COVID-19 has been the subject of conspiracy theories, misinformation, and fake news for nearly three years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled it an Infodemic, defined as "false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak." This misinformation can range from what drugs might be able to cure the virus to mask-related claims and false vaccination side effects. In the most recent example of such misinformation, global claims about country vaccination adoption are being made. A claim circulating that vaccinations have been discontinued in Japan, and the government has issued warnings about the potential side effects. However, Japan has never stopped vaccinating its citizens; in fact, data show that over 80% received the first dose, and 75% are fully vaccinated as of January 10th, 2022. Another claim is that the French parliament refused to pass a compulsory vaccination law. Still, the country approved a vaccination certificate bill that will require people to have a vaccination certificate to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and long-distance trains.

While a German-related claim adds that the German Federal Parliament has stated that anyone who has previously tested positive for the vaccine does not require it, no credible sources have reported this. Finally, a claim that Brazil has abolished the requirement for vaccination cards for visitors arriving in the country is false; vaccination remains a mandatory entry requirement into Brazil.

COVID-19 misinformation appears to stem from fear and a desire to return to normalcy, with little regard for the consequences. The ramifications have been far-reaching. Misinformation can endanger one's life. According to the researchers, up to 800 people may have died due to COVID-19 misinformation, and nearly 6000 people were hospitalized globally in the first quarter of 2020.

The US Office of the Surgeon General declared health misinformation a "significant public health challenge" in October 2021 and stated that they underestimated the impact of misinformation on vaccination hesitancy. Misinformation in COVID-19 causes confusion, uncertainty, skepticism, and mistrust, all of which contribute to an environment of "fear, anxiety, finger-pointing, stigma, and violent aggression." As a result, mistrust in health authorities grows, making it difficult for them to implement public health measures, potentially leading to death successfully.

 To combat the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, campaigns such as Stop the Spread and the United Nations' Pause campaign, which encourages users to pause and verify the information before sharing it, have been launched.

Additionally, the WHO has developed EARS, an early AI-supported response and social listening tool that aids health authorities in quickly identifying growing narratives and "information voids" preventing the public from receiving accurate data. They also established 200 active COVID-19 fact-checking groups in over 40 languages. Social media platforms must also take steps to combat misinformation, such as monitoring, detection, and changing engagement strategies to discourage the spread of fake and misleading news, whereas current misinformation sharing increases engagement and serves as an incentive for it to spread further.

Social and behavioral scientists need to collaborate with public health experts to develop the behavioral science of infodemic response to better prepare for the next pandemic. There are currently initiatives such as the Mercury Project that seek to expand on current knowledge and develop new strategies for combating misinformation that are evidence-based, data-driven tools and interventions. These solutions will be a valuable resource for global policymakers and social media and technology corporations as they work to create an information ecosystem that encourages the sharing of accurate and effective health information.

Misbar Sources:
WHO 3 
Health Affairs
Brazil Agency
Health Data

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