Widespread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic fueled by the internet “has resulted in difficulties in discerning truth from fiction” and is a growing problem, The Lancet wrote in an editorial published on Friday.
“This so-called infodemic, defined by World Health Organzation as an “overabundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it harder for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when needed,” has become a major threat to public health,” the leading medical journal wrote.
The Lancet compared dealing with “the infodemic” to the difficulty with handling the coronavirus pandemic itself.
It’s causing a “growing mistrust in science and experts” and “poor and confusing responses by political and government leaders,” the journal wrote, pointing out that the problem is compounded by some people’s use of social media as their only source of information.
The publication described those spreading misinformation on Covid-19 as “highly organized political or pseudoscientific bodies that are experienced at using nefarious techniques to propagate their narratives” and warned that they’re targeting vulnerable populations.
These types of misinformation campaigns are nothing new. Recent examples include populist politicians, the anti-vaccination movement, climate change deniers and the tobacco industry, The Lancet said, and they’re often motivated by political and financial gain.
The journal is calling for a concerted, global effort by health organizations, governments and the media to combat the spread of disinformation.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have recently started removing bogus accounts and posts containing false and dangerous information about the pandemic.
But The Lancet said too many “bogus cures and conspiracy theories” remain.
The pandemic will worsen with rising infection rates and deaths if people are confused about unproven treatments, fake cures or what is needed to get the outbreak under control.
“The key to infodemics is not to produce even more information, but to address the environmental and social factors that make spreading misinformation easy,” the publication concluded.