Infodemic – second or first enemy?

The other day mom sent me a video, in which the background voice explains that the current pandemic was planned and played out by some invisible masterminds to clean and weaken the population.

Not only is the lockdown a measure of current cleansing in which the weakest will die, but the virus itself was produced in a lab to get rid of people. When its mission is almost completed, the curing vaccine will be given only to those who were chosen to make it through the global tragedy, so the population stays at about one billion people. My eye started twitching after a few seconds of this video.

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The flow of misinformation and disinformation accompanying this pandemic, a natural and quite regular process of a virus spill-out from animals’ world to humans, is unbelievable. Since day one we started hearing various theories of virus origin.

The appearance of fake information is generally quite common when it comes to something scary, unresearched and new, but this virus that’s also known as SARS-Cov-2 or COVID-19 has beaten all records. Why? There are numerous reasons.

First, for a while, we didn’t have too big of a pandemics that we could use as strong examples. The more recent, somewhat similar SARS and MERS didn’t supply us with strong enough numbers for spread and death to compare. Other diseases we were facing in the 21st century were spreading differently thus not posing such a serious threat as easily transmitted from human to human respiratory killer-virus.

Remember those comic videos about controversial information coming from officials, like wear a mask, but don’t wear it, stay home, but go for walks and so on? Well, a lot of it happened because (ta-dam, here comes the secret) they’ve never been through anything of this scale and type either. So the complete lack of data resulted in a lot of controversial information that often came from what we perceive as trusted authorities, simply because they also don’t really know how it works.

Our second enemy is panic (when Trump suggested what he did, I first thought nobody would take it seriously, and the next thing we know, people were taken to hospitals after injecting disinfectant). Thirdly, these days a lot of fake or inaccurate information is shared with good intentions to help and protect the health and well-being of loved ones, which unlike political information manipulations makes it feel less dangerous thus often doesn’t activate the analytical processes.

So as a result for the last four-plus months we’ve been sinking in misinformation, inaccurate or false information shared accidentally, and disinformation, which is deliberately shared fake news. And I don’t know what makes more damage, the virus itself or the global information chaos around it.

By the beginning of May, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN, a great source for checking what you hear and see) distinguished seven waves of misinformation. Most of them died down a bit after time but are still in the air.

The first one was about the virus’ origin. During the second the information field was getting flooded with edited videos in which people fainted outside. In most cases, these were actually strongly impaired individuals, or people having other health issues, but for many, at that point, the novel virus became even scarier.

The third one was one of the biggest ones when people started sharing some insane cures or ways to protect themselves. In the fourth wave IFCN started seeing not just misinformation related to survival in the face of the virus, but some bad ideas like anti-Chinese thoughts. The next wave brought supremacist messages suggesting that some groups are better than the others or are chosen to survive.

Lockdowns as the main method used around the world of containing the virus, for which we don’t have a cure, resulted in a lot of disinformation as well. The later weeks brought in the politicization of the virus and the related politics. People started using it to spread ideas about the government.

For a long time now we’ve been lacking clear and simple messages, and for many, when it comes to COVID-19, the trust level is below zero. It’s easier to believe that an evil mastermind created this chaotic scenario than believing that it’s comparable to previous pandemics that killed millions in our history. And the further the tendency lasts the more dangerous it becomes, killing people using crazy cures, greatly endangering those mistrusting and thus disobeying the recommendations and orders, and upraising in a face for future economic problems.

We’ve said it again and again, please, always check your facts, think, analyze, don’t share unless you know and trust the source. In the 21st century, the main wars are happening in the information field and now we are learning a new one, so keep your mind defence up.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury


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