Since a large part of my job is to “surf” the Internet and social networks, I want to ask you something. What are you doing? You read our articles, so you know how to use a computer and the Internet. Why is the percentage of vaccinated people so low? Where did so many vaccine opponents suddenly come from? I am absolutely serious about asking. The situation is extraordinary. More than 1,000 people die from covid in Russia every day.
It is as if six passenger Beings fell to the ground every day. But before the lock down, everyone ran to shops and bars, bought up all the places in Turkish hotels. Why? There is hardly one answer to this question. There are many reasons. But one, nevertheless, stands out. And this is misinformation. A year ago, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that we are in the midst of an “infodemic” – the time when harmful misinformation spreads like an irresistible infectious disease. In the same way that COVID-19 spreads, so does disinformation about it. And it’s very bad.
The problem does not come alone
You and I had a chance to live in an amazing time. On the one hand, scientific breakthrough after breakthrough, space exploration, robotics, medicine, the Internet, and so on. But on the other hand, everything is not so rosy. It seems that everyone today received an education (some kind of education), but in fact, practically no one can distinguish false information from reliable.
Should you be surprised? High intelligence is not needed to master a gadget – we learn new things very quickly. But having mastered this amazing tool, a person, plunging into the network, remains one on one with it. What will he see on the Internet? Can you tell the truth from the lie?
Of course, I won’t open America to you, but we are really mired in scientific misinformation. It is being released and distributed at an unprecedented rate. For example, according to a recent poll, 20 percent of US citizens surveyed said they believed covid vaccines contained a microchip.
Think about it. A fifth of the respondents adhere to a theory rooted in the idea that Bill Gates wants to keep an eye on everyone. The poll also showed that only 46 percent of Americans were willing to say the microchip story was bullshit. Even though there is no way in the world by which a microchip can be inserted into a vaccine.
These statistics are troubling. But given our hectic information environment, they are also generally understandable. It becomes more and more difficult to separate the real from the unreal. Sense from nonsense. Magical thinking from critical.
Recently, I came across a story about a 42-year-old Muscovite who read somewhere that in order to transfer COVID-19 in a mild form, you need to get infected from a person who easily tolerates the disease. The woman took her two daughters and her husband to visit her sick friend. As a result, she died, and one of her daughters ended up in intensive care.
Alas, our information environment has turned into a chaotic, confusing, exploitative storm of nonsense that destroys our health and well-being. There are many reasons why it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to avoid – or even recognize – harmful nonsense and deception. And all of this happens at this very historical moment when we yearn and so desperately need facts and some clarity.
The golden era of disinformation
As Timothy Caulfield, professor of law and public health at the University of Alberta who specializes in misinformation, writes in an article for MensHealth, part of the problem is that we have normalized nonsense in some very subtle and some very obvious ways. Just look around. All around there are experts on coronavirus and health improvement.
But the Internet is not full of charlatans. Thanks to people like Andrew Wakefield – a former physician who wrote a nefarious article “Vaccines cause autism” that was published in The Lancet and then refuted and withdrawn – vaccine safety misinformation continues to spread and find new audiences.
The sad truth: misinformation and men are a particularly bad combination that is harmful to health. A study by researchers at the University of Delaware showed that men are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories associated with covid . Several other works have also demonstrated that men do not worry too much about the consequences of disinformation, Caulfield writes.
It is also interesting that it is men who are less likely to go to get vaccinated. While there are many reasons for this hesitation, the male tendency to accept and succumb to coronavirus conspiracy theories is a key part of the story. But ladies, although they are somewhat inferior to gentlemen in this struggle, often turn out to be also irresponsible.
Who and what do we believe in?
Another interesting study has shown that if you receive news from social media, you are more likely to believe it and spread misinformation. An analysis by the Pew Research Center came to a similar conclusion.
Other studies have traced the origins of misinformation about COVID-19 circulating in popular culture on specific platforms. For example, an analysis of the 2020 press release, which contains over 7,000 misleading claims about coronavirus in Poynter’s global coronavirus facts database, found that more than half of them were created on Facebook.
Our current information ecosystem is an insane space that doesn’t require careful consideration of the facts, especially if the headline plays on our emotions. We respond quickly to the experiences that content creates.
We know, for example, that humans are evolutionarily predisposed to remember and respond to negative and frightening information. This negative bias is universal. Experiments with the media have shown, for example, that negative headlines are superior to positive ones, the researchers note.
It is also interesting that conspiracy theories are attracting more and more followers, because they can give a complete picture of why something is happening. They can offer simple answers to complex questions that remain scientifically unresolved.
For example, during the pandemic, much was – and still remains – unknown. This can be confusing. A story that provides answers, even a seemingly insane conspiracy theory, can be comforting – especially if the story reflects our pre-existing values and beliefs.
How to deal with misinformation?
So how do you deal with infodemia? David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Lancet that traditional media plays a key role in providing the general public with evidence-based information that he hopes will then be picked up on social media. …
He also noted that for both social and mainstream media, it is important for the public health community to help the media “better understand what they should be looking for because the media are sometimes ahead of the evidence.” Journalism also plays an important role in combating and mitigating disinformation, but this is not the only solution.
The fact that people still don’t believe that nearly five million people have died from COVID-19 shows us how much work needs to be done to communicate better, better illustrate and better visualize data and science, scientists say.
Fortunately, a number of studies do show that the effects of misinformation can be mitigated by refuting false information and providing real facts, or by identifying logical fallacies. The importance of exposing misinformation and pseudoscience is recognized by experts around the world. For example, WHO regularly debunks emerging myths related to COVID-19 on its website and through its social media channels.
Finally, combating disinformation is also about providing better information . In fact, information about individual COVID-19 risks can affect even highly hesitant people. Demonstrating to people what a pandemic means for members of at-risk groups targets natural empathy and apparently increases willingness to participate in prevention efforts.
The stories of the tragedies of this pandemic can make people feel what all the abstract numbers mean. But not all stories work the same for everyone. This is why educating people you know about the benefits of vaccinations and personal protective equipment is so important. You can save someone’s life, or even more than one.
Oh yeah, and to tackle this fast-paced problem, scientists have put together a free COVID-19 vaccination guide that is available in 11 languages and is regularly updated to reflect the latest scientific advances.
Well, I’ll add on my own: make it a habit to check information. It is not as difficult and does not take as long as you might think. I described how to do this here . Be healthy, take care of yourself and your loved ones, and develop critical thinking.
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