Misinformation amidst malignant coronavirus: A combat of two virus

Tue, 14 Jul 2020 Source: Gifty Fiagbenya

The novel coronavirus pandemic is a global health emergency crisis sweeping across six continents of the world. The World Health Organization (W.H.O) refers to it as COVID-19 and on 11th March 2020, it was officially declared as a pandemic. Many world superpowers including the United States of America, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, etc. are grappling with this deadly disease. The world economy has taken a thunderous hit resulting in a global supply chain crisis, stock market crisis, energy crisis, health crisis, etc.

Ghana has reported over 23,463 cases with 4,712 active cases 18,622 recoveries and 129 deaths as of Sunday, 12 July 2020. Closure of air, sea and land borders, cessation of educational activities, restrictions on physical religious gatherings, mandatory testing of anyone coming into Ghana. The mandatory wearing of nose masks, provision of some economic reliefs, etc., are some of the measures put in place by the government.

The virus is transmitted from infected animals to human beings and is now spread from person to person through close contact (from distances less than 6 feet or two arm lengths) with a person who has contracted the virus. It is transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes (CDC, 2020).

However, the World Health Organization issued a briefing that stated various modes of transmitting the virus thereby not limiting it to the various modes stated above. The other modes of transmission include airborne transmission, fomite transmission, and others.

Some of the signs and symptoms that have been linked to the virus include shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, and other times excessive drowsiness. There hasn’t been any known treatment or approved vaccine for COVID-19 although vaccines and treatments are under study by scientists and researchers.

There are many measures that have been laid down to curtail the spread of the disease. The World Health Organization being the lead organization in combating the virus, developed preventive measures that can be used to curb the spread. Some of these measures include staying home to avoid possible contact with an infected person, wearing a nose mask in public places, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, washing of hands often with soap and water, or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and the practice of social distancing.

In the pursuit of fighting this deadly pandemic COVID-19, we are faced with the spread of misinformation on the causes, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19. Just as the coronavirus itself, misinformation has spread far and wide, drowning out credible sources of information.

Misinformation can be considered as false content shared by a person who, either, does not realize it is false or misleading or knows and shares the false information for some ulterior motive. Misinformation comes in many forms, an example being fabricated videos that do not fit a context. Misinformation has a major impact on our lives because information shapes our world view; we make important decisions based on information.

We form an idea about people or a situation by obtaining information. So, if the information we see on social media is invented, false, exaggerated or distorted, we will not be able to make concrete decisions.

Misinformation creates enmity and may eventually erupt into a conflict. Although misinformation is not a new phenomenon since it has been around since the 1990s, in the case of COVID-19, trust in the information on COVID-19 is falling most notably due to the widespread of false information on social media.

In the season of COVID-19, numerous misinformation have been circulated regarding treatment for the virus. The information ranges from taking hydroxychloroquine as an antivirus medicine, to taking in different concoctions as remedies to the virus, to drinking a lot of water and ginger and exposing oneself to ultraviolet rays

Many people have been misinformed about the curative effects of the treatments mentioned above. Most of these rumors are spread via social media which is also used as a channel of disseminating information. Because of the unrestricted access to social media and the freedom given to individuals to interact on the internet, individuals spread fake news about the causes, prevention, and treatment of the virus as mentioned above.

Citizens tend to find it difficult to decipher the truth in what they read on social media making it a challenge to digest the truth about the causes, prevention, and treatment of the virus. The effects of misinformation are becoming more profound as patients are resisting to receive treatment for COVID-19.

Misinformation has created an enabling environment for the stigma against those recovering from COVID-19. In Ghana, for instance, patients who were tested positive and later recovered after receiving treatment have been stigmatized in their society. Unfortunately, the stigma is not only against those who have recovered but against all the members of their family. Access to the right information is a powerful tool in combating the fight against COVID19.

To counter the spread of misinformation, several measures have been adopted by different countries in the world. Criminal prosecutions were enacted in Asian countries such as China, where, as of February, the number of cases tried for crimes related to false information had doubled. Citizens who were found guilty of producing and disseminating false information were persecuted.

The use of fact-checking services can also be used to counter the spread of misinformation. In Québec for example, a fact-checking service known as ‘The Rumour Detector’ is used by the citizens. The United Nations also uses EPI – WIN to track down misinformation in several languages. All these approaches that are being used are important in combating the spread of misinformation.

In addition, it is imperative to educate the citizens on how to spot false information to prevent the dissemination of such information. The citizens should be educated on how to separate online fact from online fiction. In doing so, basic questions one should ask himself before disseminating information are: Who created the site? Why was the site created? What is its agenda? Finally, what is the source of the information?

Other things to look out for will be the date of publication of the information before sharing it. For social media accounts, one can check if the social media account is a familiar account and check to see if the account handle and name looks legitimate. Also, one can try to check who wrote or shared the information; is the person a reliable source? The language and style of the information can also determine whether the information is false or true. These and more are some of the ways to spot false information before sharing.

Misinformation should be a subject discussed by all just as the United Nations has started the conversation on how to tackle the virus of misinformation because of the adverse effect it poses to the society even during this pandemic. Everybody must be actively engaged to curtail the spread of misinformation.

It is prudent to pause and think about the information before instinctively sharing it as it can go a long way to stop the spread of misinformation, as all it takes is a click of a button to share misinformation. As part of the global movement to tackle misinformation, the United Nations are entrusting people to adopt a behavior change to help tackle misinformation and this can be done by pausing and taking care before sharing any information.

Columnist: Gifty Fiagbenya
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