They develop a cough, hacking so hard their chest hurts and making it hard to breathe. They get hot, run a fever, and grow tired. Most people eventually recover, but many people die. It is the virus that shut down the world: COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
Over the past few months, many people have died of this disease. Could we have saved more people by fighting against misinformation about the virus?
One big problem the world has faced in trying to figure out how to deal with the coronavirus is the spread of misinformation. Too many people are getting wrong information about the virus online. This has to stop.
The World Health Organization has put together a web page just to explain that many of the myths that have popped up are wrong. Some examples include that pepper can cure or prevent the virus or that the new 5G mobile network is spreading the virus. According to WHO, these claims are false.
Another myth: putting disinfectants inside your body could cure the coronavirus.
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute,” President Trump said during a May briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”
Some people took this to heart and started to drink or inject disinfectants. The WHO says that this claim is also just a myth.
“Geek Wire” has also reported that this false information has gotten out of hand.
“The WHO in February declared an ‘infodemic’, as the public has struggled to make sense of an overwhelming amount of information about the health crisis,” “Geek Wire” reported. “Disasters are often prime conditions for misinformation, researchers say, but the pandemic is even worse.”
This situation is extremely dangerous. If someone injects themselves with a disinfectant, they can die. In a pandemic, false information isn’t a cute little prank, it can lead to somebody’s death.
False information spreads fast; faster, even than the pandemic. A 2018 study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does”.
According to the “San Diego Union-Tribune”, during the first three months of this year there was a 900 percent increase in the number of fact checks by groups like “Snopes”, which investigates urban legends and myths.
People scared of the virus will also sometimes take drastic actions. When they act on false information things can get ugly.
According to the “San Diego Union-Tribune”, people have set cell phone towers on fire or vandalized phone equipment because of the conspiracy theory linking the spread of the coronavirus to 5G wireless networks.
In fact, misinformation also affects businesses. The Mexican beer Corona had to halt production for now, in part because people keep thinking the beer causes the virus. According to CBS News, in one survey, 38 percent of American beer drinkers said they would not buy Corona beer anymore.
Social media is the main culprit when it comes to spreading false information about COVID-19.
According to Forbes, more than 15 million tweets mentioned coronavirus during the first month of the pandemic alone.
Twitter has been trying to control false information and conspiracy theories, but it has been a major struggle. Facebook has also tried to stop people from selling hard-to-find items like face masks on top of controlling the spread of false information.
One of the biggest issues was that some people were promoting a cure that did not work, a drug called hydroxychloroquine. It is usually used to treat malaria and lupus.
Malaria is a fever caused by a parasite that invades the red blood cells. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes in many tropical and subtropical regions. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue and organs.
First, most studies show that hydroxychloroquine has little to no effect on COVID-19 patients, according to the Washington Post. Also, some people have started hoarding this drug, which has led to shortages for people with lupus and other diseases the drug actually can treat. There are even serious side effects, including heart attacks.
So, what can people do to stay informed during the coronavirus pandemic? Slow down when you have an emotional response to information. Check the original source of the information. Cross-check information with multiple sources. If your main news source keeps giving you false information, find a more reliable source.
People need to stop spreading false information. Only then, by listening to experts that know what they’re talking about, not your favorite YouTuber that you follow on Twitter, can we hope to save lives.
Think about what you say about the virus, because you could risk someone’s life with misinformation.