Since the outbreak of COVID19, misinformation and disinformation have been rife. The WHO reports that alongside the rapid spread of the virus there is a parallel ‘infodemic’ of false and misleading information. Although misinformation is often synonymous with uncorroborated online content, there has been parallel concern of the spread of untrue or misrepresented information by public figures via mainstream media.
A recent study at the University of Oxford found that the two main types of misinformation circulating since the onset of the pandemic concern the actions of public authorities and false claims of the origins, spread, treatment and responses to the virus. In addition to misleading the public, misinformation and fake news has significant human and national security impacts.
A key example is the conspiracy theory linking the spread of COVID19 to the installation of 5G networks. Despite being universally discredited by the scientific community, false rumours instigated the destruction of 5G infrastructure in the UK. The vandalization of critical infrastructure demonstrates the capacity of misinformation to exacerbate insecurity during times of crisis.
As the pandemic deepens and the socioeconomic and political costs of the pandemic increase, ensuring that citizens have access to the facts of COVID-19 is crucial to ensuring their well-being and preventing major public disorder events.
Lessons and Recommendations
- A concerted effort by public officials, opinion influencers and media (including social media platforms) to disseminate credible information based on verifiable evidence.
- Increase the from credible sources of information from healthcare professionals, first responders and the scientific community.
- Support efforts of researchers, civil society and independent groups to ‘fact-check’ information circulating in public discourse.
- Educate the public on misinformation and empower citizens with means to critically engage with information the encounter.