With more than two million cases worldwide, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented breakdown in our society. Leaders around the world have gone from recalcitrant acceptance to a state of emergency. Unlike the other pandemics that have occurred in history, such as the one from H1N1 in 1918, Covid-19 is spreading into a highly connected world. In which virtually every individual is connected to the other through the mobile phone. Due to tight social distancing measures, people are highly dependent on staying connected through social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, to facilitate human interaction and the passing of information about the virus.
Social media influence in the COVID-19 Pandemic
As suggested by a reflection on Lancet Digital Health, we need to consider how various stakeholders can respond to these challenges – especially government leaders, social media companies, and healthcare providers. Everyone should prevent social media from being used as a weapon to sow distrust and thereby undermine public health.
Are social media weakening the response against COVID-19?
Indeed, the idea of legitimacy has changed in the context of social media. More and more users see the people they trust within their network of contacts as authoritative sources of information. As this information spreads, it is also often perceived as becoming more and more legitimate. This method of disseminating and validating information is in contrast to methods controlled more directly by an intermediary (e.g., traditional media)
It has specialist knowledge and clear responsibilities for verifying and disseminating information. This information-sharing model has become one of the main ones by which public information related to health and medicine is produced and disseminated.
Not just correct information
There is another thing that social networks have facilitated the spread: disinformation. Scientific disinformation has been deliberately disseminated to undermine trust in governments and as a political weapon. In the few months that have passed since the first cases of Covid-19, different types of incorrect information have spread on traditional media and social media. The WHO has called an infodemic, which is an excessive amount of incorrect information and rumors of various kinds that make it difficult to identify reliable sources of information.
A big boost to public confusion has been given by the Trump administration, which has chosen to call the epidemic “a scam” and a political attack by its opponents. Misinformation can have devastating consequences, as evidenced by the dissemination of data, yet to be verified, according to which chloroquine could with certainty cure Covid-19.
At the same time, trials of the antimalarial are currently underway in treating respiratory syndrome caused by the new coronavirus, with still uncertain results. With the pandemic’s exponential growth, the uncontrolled and rapid spread of incorrect information, especially due to social media. It represents a challenge that public health must urgently address to control and mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Simultaneously, the confusion brought about by disinformation weakens trust and consensus among the population, also influencing their actions.
In this scenario, what today qualifies as disinformation could be seen differently in the future in the light of new scientific discoveries. This detail makes the fight against disinformation even more complex. In practice, today distinguishing between disinformation and correct information means trying to aim at a moving goal. The stakes are very high.
With the pandemic’s exponential growth, there is an urgent need to establish valid methods for disseminating correct and accurate information while quickly identifying and eradicating those that are no longer valid. A continuous challenge that new media could help win; but without the necessary digital education, the internet is a tool that can be extremely dangerous, even for public health.