This year is tough enough without having to decide and determine if the information you are receiving is accurate and true. The rumors, conspiracy theories and just plain old misinformation is circulating the globe. The spread of this falsities had only contributed to the deaths and injuries accumulating this year.
A recent study reviewed social media platforms, online newspapers and other websites between December 31 and April 15. They used defined terminology for rumor, stigma and conspiracy theory as follows: a rumor as any unverified information that can be found to be true, fabricated, or entirely false after verification. A stigma is related to discrimination or devaluation of a group and a conspiracy theory was defined as beliefs about an individual or group of people working in secret to reaching malicious goals.
After finding 2,311 reports from 87 different countries and 25 different languages that represented one or more of the categories above, the concluded that 89% of them were rumors, just under 8% were conspiracy theories and almost 4% were stigmas. Further, most of these items came from 6 particular countries: India, United States, China, Spain, Indonesia and Brazil.
Several examples include: Poultry eggs are contaminated with coronavirus and drinking bleach may kill the virus are both rumors. A stigma was that every disease has come from China. And a popular conspiracy theory said it’s a bio-weapon funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to further vaccine sales.
Taking it one step further, they investigated the results of this misinformation. In the case of bleach killing the virus, they found that at least 800 people have died, almost 6,000 hospitalized and 60 people experienced complete blindness after drinking methanol as a cure for coronavirus. It is probably likely those numbers are higher, since the information is only available on publicly available online platforms.
So, in the middle of a pandemic, we seem to have created an ‘infodemic’ as well. This is not necessarily something new and the world has been leaning more and more toward fake news and misinformation as the years have passed. But what is the general public to do? How can you be well-informed and stay safe with all of these lies floating around?
First and foremost, you must consider and know the source of information. Is it from a trusted and authoritative entity? If not, then you should seriously consider ignoring it or looking elsewhere to validate it. Unfortunately, the ultimate sleuthing will rest on you.
There is a funny saying that goes: If it’s on the internet, it must be true! Before you believe or share any content that has been sent to you. Before you get fearful or angry, take a breath. Then work to do a check of the source to vet out the truth. If the details you find out are hard to follow or intricately webbed together, the chances are it is inaccurate.
The internet is truly a source of information that can and should be used to help us combat the virus, share critical updates and keep us informed. Instead, it is often used malign a topic or person or country and ultimately confuse us and lead us down the wrong path. Do your due diligence before acting.
Another unfortunate outcome of misinformation is scamming. During any crisis, there are those that prey upon the scared and vulnerable. While platforms such as Facebook do try to prohibit or remove products that are intended to mislead, imply a guarantee of a cure or prevention or create a panic, they are not always successful.
The advice is the same. First, don’t buy anything just because you read it on the internet or your friend or family member told you they read it on the internet. Investigate, investigate, investigate. Is the vendor reputable? How long have they been in business? Is the information or product they are selling validated through other forums? Don’t jump to give your credit card or personal information until you are 100% certain you will get the results intended.
It is difficult to be bombarded with information at every turn and not know what to believe or who to believe. As if we don’t have enough to worry about in this environment, we have to worry about being fed inaccurate information that could potentially harm us even more. The best advice is to take a step back from your political views and your cultural norms and examine all of the information before you before making your own personal decision. While it may not always be possible to come to a conclusion one way or the other, at least you know you have potentially avoided a lot of wasted energy, time, money and resources following something that turned out to not be what it was at face value. You are your own best advocate and investigator!