Misinformation: The hidden pandemic?

(United Nations COVID-19 Response, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Vedant Shukla, a medical student from Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences, Karad, India. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

It’s been a little over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic became a watershed moment in the history of human-kind and then consequently a conversation starter, something constantly plaguing the human mind. While the nanoscopic pathogen was basking in the glory of the ephemeral human attention, lurking in its shadow was another pandemic of sorts, spread of misinformation.  The origin of this “infodemic”, can be traced back much before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the accelerating growth of smartphone usage credited to refinement of technology. This gave human beings access to contentiously one of the most empowering tools of the 21st century, the internet and thus unbridled access to data and information. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Infodemic”, as a blend of “information” and “epidemic” that typically refers to a rapid and far-reaching spread of both accurate and inaccurate information about something, as facts, rumours and fears mix and disperse it becomes difficult to learn essential information about an issue. Misinformation is the spread of inaccurate information, created without the intention of hurting others. Whereas Disinformation is inaccurate information created with malicious intent.  Misinformation has always been a hurdle to public health especially to topics such as immunisation and vaccination, which have sprouted movements harmful to public health, elimination of diseases and scientific advancement, the very self-proclaimed “Anti-vaxxer” movement. This has been highlighted throughout the pandemic, so much so that the WHO has dedicated resources on how countries can fight misinformation. From “Masks can cause suffocation because of carbon dioxide build-up” to “the vaccine contains a microchip that alters your DNA, so that governments can control your mind”, people from across all countries and ages regardless of political affiliations and educational qualifications, have fallen prey to misinformation.  This has led to large scale stigma affecting mental health and tackling the real pandemic itself.

How can we keep this “Infodemic” in check?

Vaccinations will play a substantial vital role in control of the pandemic, with misinformation being the biggest challenge to universal vaccination, it is also the biggest hurdle in controlling the pandemic. Here are a few ways to check for reliable information online by the 5-C’s of Critical consuming tool as created by John Spencer:

  1. Context: This would include looking at the date of the article published and the events transpired since then that might help review and revise one’s perspective.
  2. Credibility: This includes checking the source and the author’s credibility. The source should be reliable according to one’s Government or the WHO and the author should have the required qualifications for the expertise they put out.
  3. Construction: Look to try and distinguish facts from conjectures and opinions. Question your bias and that which the information might contain.
  4. Corroborate: Scrutinize the supporting claims to the information with reliable and credible sources and websites.
  5. Compare: Collate the assertions from different reliable sources and experts. Look at credible sources from across the spectrum to apprehend any propaganda.

About the author

Vedant Shukla is a medical student from Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences, Karad, India with various passions ranging from Research, SRHR, Mental Health, Public and Global Health. He has worked towards the same and actively contributed in the capacity of a member and various leadership roles at different organisations on a local, national and international level. He aspires to work as a future doctor and global health researcher and policy maker with a vision of a future where quality healthcare is accessible to all and looked upon as a fundamental human right.

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