It’s been five months since the first case of the novel COVID-19 disease was reported and just about two months since it was declared a pandemic by the WHO. The world, unprepared for an outbreak, as wily as the Covid-19, is faced with uncertainties at various levels. Panic has become the next neighbour on the street, as people are faced with enforced changes in their lifestyle coupled with societal and economical challenges.
Fueling an already deadly pandemic is a rising infodemic. Misinformation and disinformation have become the deadly allies of the novel virus and are wrecking as much havoc as the virus itself.
While the COVID-19 virus is attacking the respiratory tract of people, the information viruses are attacking their minds, systems and structures in many countries; sparking fear, outrage, ill-advised actions, and so much more.
As the novel Coronavirus reaches virtually every country in the world, there is also a massive circulation of false information which is spreading just as fast as the virus. Hence the need for the World Health Organization to declare “a second disease” – an infodemic. Which it defines as “an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”.
The false information circulating have been categorised into two main categories; misinformation which is an unintentional transmission of false information with the intention to do some good without realising the negative repercussions; and disinformation which is the intentional spread of false information with the intention of causing harm or spreading panic.
One might seem more dangerous than the other, however, they are equally dangerous especially when faced with a pandemic such as this.
A study by the Reuters Institute, carried out in six countries, has reported that about 1/3 of social media users have reported seeing false or misleading information about the coronavirus. Another research by Pew suggests that people who receive their news primarily through social media are more likely to be exposed to false content.
These reports highlight the role of the internet in the spread of information, both true and false. According to Internet Live Stats, over 4 billion people around the world are daily active internet users, while at least three billion are active on at least one social media platform.
According to Alexa ranking, the most visited website in the world is google.com, and this gives an insight into what most internet users are doing on the internet – searching for information.
Make a Website Hub also reported that Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every single day, which equates to roughly 40,000 searches every single second.
This, therefore, shows that if you need to spread any information in this digital age, a lot of attention should be placed on the information available on the internet.
Journalism and the Digital Age
Traditional media have no doubt played vital roles in spreading information, and are still relevant till now, especially in third world countries and underdeveloped countries with meagre access to the internet. Hence, despite the surge in the advent of the digital media, we should not neglect that a lot of information is still passed from mouth-to-mouth, otherwise referred to as “hear-say”.
Many of the index information carriers get these information from local stations and tell their friends. There are still some that trust the radio more than the internet.
That being said, a balance should be adhered to. While we take advantage of the huge potential that digital media offers in terms of audience, we should also ensure that we share authentic and verified information. Vetting every information before sharing on the internet is just as important as sharing the information itself. This is particularly important in an age where virtually everyone acts as journalists.
- The ease of transmission of information on the internet has brought to light the need for journalists and information sources to be careful with the information pushed on their platforms. We have seen misinterpretations of information over time, so extra attention should be placed on narratives and use of words in passing information.
- Biase has also played a major role in the spread of misinformation. Journalists and information sources should always remember that their duty is to inform the public from a neutral point of view without any bias towards anyone.
- Social media networks have already begun clamping down on fake news on their platforms and more work should be done in order to detect and remove such news as well as users as fast as possible.
- Everyone has a role to play in the spread of misinformation and disinformation. So before you click on that share button; Pause, Think, Verify and Determine whether this information will be helpful to the public or otherwise.
At times like these, we need to let go of our differences and come together for the good of One – the world. Stay safe, we will make it through.