Infodemic

By Justin Anderson and Sarah Jacobs Gamberini Inkstick

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On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Governments around the world have scrambled to attempt to limit the movement of people in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The unfolding crisis, however, has also highlighted the daunting challenge of attempting to halt the spread of misinformation (erroneous information) and disinformation (deliberately false information) about the virus. Five weeks prior to declaring the disease a pandemic, the WHO alerted governments and publics of the dangerous and increasingly prolific spread of “myths and rumors” about COVID-19. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on February 15, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom aptly described the challenge facing the international organization and governments around the world: “[W]e’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

The challenge is not just limited to countering COVID “cure” scams, profiteers attempting to corner the market on disinfectant wipes, and Facebook posts shared by well-meaning relatives about how you can use Tito’s vodka as a home remedy substitute for hand sanitizer (it’s not and please don’t: though Tito’s Handmade Vodka and other craft distilleries are working to fill the need). The Russian government, which has already sought to sow chaos and confusion on public health matters in an effort to divide and weaken America, is likely encouraging Russian media to fabricate news and rumors about COVID-19. And given past practices, moving forward Moscow may also seek to manipulate online information and social media discourse on the pandemic as part of its ongoing disinformation campaign against the United States. READ MORE >>>