Towards the end of 2019, the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread throughout the population of Wuhan, China and soon after the entire world. The global pandemic has caused huge disruption to healthcare services, global travel, infrastructure, and worldwide economies.
The pandemic was always going to cause substantial disruption, but this was accentuated by widespread misinformation. An “infodemic” is a term used to describe the ‘out of control’ spread of misinformation often referred to as “fake news” or “conspiracy theories”. The misinformation during the pandemic lead to disorder, disruption and sometimes even death.
This paper covers some of the main areas of misinformation documented in the existing literature. Specifically, the areas of are addressed:
- Herbal Remedies
- Mistrust in Government Interventions
- Social Media
Herbal remedies were seen as an alternative to modern medicine particularly in Asia and in the early stages of the pandemic. Numerous healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers were of the belief that they were useful in fighting Covid-19.
Mistrust in government interventions was more apparent in countries where there was greater animosity and distrust towards politicians. This mistrust caused greater disorder and disruption than in more harmoniously run countries.
The idea that 5G cellular towers caused the spread of Covid-19 amongst populations was debunked swiftly, but not before excessive damage had been done to infrastructure. Some celebrities compounded the issue by publicising their support for the destruction and the overall conspiracy theory. Despite this therefore causing wider media coverage, the overall believability amongst the population in this theory was low.
Social media was a hugely influential source of misinformation and acted as a platform for misinformation to spread exponentially. In fact, the majority of misinformation engaged with in relation to Covid-19 was on social networking sites and instant messaging platforms. Official sources of information did use social media as a platform to send out vital communication and this was engaged with more widely than in the past. However, the extend to which “fake news” was disseminated on social media was far greater and there was little regulation to prevent this from occurring. Complex algorithms only compounded the issue by promoting misinformation, considering it to be poplar and desired based on engagement and interaction rates.
Future research should establish the factors associated with these drivers (for example age, gender, ethnicity, education, religious beliefs, industry etc.) and explore ways to nullify their influence.