What drives the misinformation ecosystem is the lack of knowledge, fuelled by fear. If you believed what you read and watch on social media about vaccines – you will never take a vaccine, ever.
By Varadarajan Ananthakrishnan
When I came back from a work trip on 1 March 2020, I did not, I repeat, I did not realise it was going to be my last flight for the better part of the next two years. The pandemic has altered our lives beyond recognition. Added to the pandemic, is the deluge of misinformation – defined by the word ‘infodemic’ – throughout this period.
In the earliest days, it started with “why this is no more than cold and flu”. Social media was buzzing with DIY videos from “how to stop the virus with this simple technique” to “how to have foods that fight COVID”. It went from the unscientific kitchen concoctions, which were no more than everyday brews that were anyway good for your health – to the conspiracy theories that “this is a bio warfare started by China, and will soon consume us all” – to bizarre ideas like “being in the sauna can help you get rid of the virus” – to the sublime: “Alcohol can kill the virus”. All of them – baseless, half-truths and misinformation. The videos especially, were probably, made to increase their views and make them popular with the cash ringing in as well.
What drives the misinformation ecosystem? It is the lack of knowledge fuelled by fear of an unknown virus. It is what is known as ‘information deficit’. The pandemic was new, and while the world was figuring out how to fight the virus, there was a definite deficit in information on symptoms, treatments and cures. This is where the mischief makers – the bad actors, get in. These lie merchants sell you misinformation, packaged as truth, because you are looking for information, and credible information, which, at least at that moment, is not available.
From the early innocent days of misinformation about the virus, the cures and the treatment –today, it is about vaccines. If you believed what you read and watch on social media about vaccines – you will never take a vaccine, ever. For the uninitiated, this can be very compelling and believable. And that is the danger, we face today.
But there is hope. The whole worldwide community of fact-checkers, represented by collaborations like First Check, strives to counter this misinformation effectively. As the community grows, we should together be able to stop misinformation from spreading.
Stay safe, follow the protocols and always, check your facts.