Professor says fake Coronavirus news is making the crisis increasingly worse

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Effectively covering the Covid-19 pandemic is just as vital as it is challenging. The narrative tends to escalate by the day because of the pathogen’s breakneck transmission speed. 

Research regarding this specific zoonotic virus is gradually making its way into academic literature, but a new study published in revue-Depidemiologie-Et-De-Sante-Publique highlights the grim impact of misinformation.

“When it comes to COVID-19, there has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the internet – about how the virus originated, what causes it and how it is spread. Misinformation means that bad advice can circulate very quickly – and it can change human behavior to take greater risks,” professor Paul Hunter said of the new paper in a media release. “Fake news is manufactured with no respect for accuracy and is often based on conspiracy theories. Worryingly, research has shown that nearly 40% of the British public believe at least one conspiracy theory, and even more in the US and other countries.”

Initially, the majority of data submitted by medical professionals was based on the nature of similar pathogens of the past. 

Before the novel Coronavirus penetrated the US pundits and elected officials alike were quick to remind people that influenza has a much higher mortality rate, while others were resolute in their belief that the virus would be contained in Mainland China before it achieved pandemic status. 

When both of those predictions were debunked, rising death tolls, hysteria, and hospitalizations welcomed erroneous preemptive measures; like wearing face masks or eating garlic. Most of the dietary suggestions, even if incorrect, were victimless offenses. However, if the public is made to believe that they are protected via methods that in reality  are of zero utility, they are all the more likely to enter high-risk situations. 

“People in West Africa affected by the Ebola outbreak were more likely to practice unsafe burial practices if they believed misinformation. And here in the UK, 14% of parents have reported sending their child to school with symptoms of contagious chickenpox – violating school policies and official quarantine advice,” Hunter continued.“Worryingly, people are more likely to share bad advice on social media, than good advice from trusted sources such as the NHS, Public Health England or the World Health Organisation,”

To test the adverse potential of alternative facts in relation to pandemic events, the researchers devised theoretical simulations that incorporated real human behavioral tendencies, the spread of other similar infectious diseases, incubation and recovery times, and the degree to which incorrect information is shared on social media and among communities. 

“We tested strategies to reduce misinformation. In our first study, focusing on the flu, monkeypox, and norovirus, we found that reducing the amount of harmful advice being circulated by just 10% – from 50% to 40% – mitigated the influence of bad advice on the outcomes of a disease outbreak,” Dr. Brainard explains. “Making 20% of the population unable to share or believe harmful advice – or ‘immunizing’ them against fake news, had the same positive effect.

As it stands, staying informed is our only defense against Covid-19’s corrosive tour. It’s easy to feign authority when the world wide web is so readily at our disposal, but interpreting information requires expertise.