Covid-19: So much information, what do we believe?


  • Living
  • Tuesday, 17 Mar 2020

We are in an era of disinformation. The excessive amounts of information (infodemic) surrounding Covid-19 hampers an effective public health response, creates confusion and distrust among the public. Photo:AFP

We live in an age where there is a 24-hours news cycle: we have all the information about the world in the palm of our hands, 24/7.

One could reasonably expect that we would be wiser with all this news and information.

The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted two significant deficiencies in our current digital world.

First, the many algorithms used in social media and platforms dictate what information we access and amplifies our concerns.

Second, the availability of vast amounts of information makes it challenging for us to answer specific questions. The difficulty in understanding scientific knowledge has led to a proliferation of pseudoscientific messages in social media; many of which contain half-truths and have a strong bias.

We are in an era of disinformation. The excessive amounts of information (infodemic) surrounding Covid-19 hampers an effective public health response, creates confusion and distrust among the public.

The algorithms used in social media and online news channels are there to keep you as engaged with the platform as possible.

However, a side effect of these algorithms is the creation of echo chambers that may cause increased anxiety, stress, and even panic.

Take a break from social media if you feel overwhelmed. Avoid information and news that you find distressing, limit your screen time, and determine the type of information you want on Covid-19 before getting into your news feed and updates.

There are so many unknowns during this Covid-19 outbreak. These uncertainties lead people to search the internet and their social networks for valid answers. In these tough times, trust is critical for reducing fear and enabling excellent communication and knowledge management.

We need to identify trusted networks and establish trust chains within our organisations and communities to help empower us.

Trusted networks are beneficial to verify and debunk most of the misinformation you get.

For a start, I suggest the following sites for trusted statistics and knowledge on Covid-19.

  1. WHO Network for Information in Epidemics (EPI-WIN) (https://www.epi-win.com/)
  2. Malaysian Ministry of Health webpage on Covid-19: (http://www.moh.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/2019-ncov-wuhan)
  3. Crisis Preparedness and Response Center, Ministry of Health Malaysia (CPRC KKM) https://t.me/cprckkm
  4. I also suggest the establishment of trust chains within organisations and communities to help people obtain correct information on this disease.

These trust chains can be structured to have designated members verify relevant news and information; helping debunk circulating misinformation.

This chain of timely and appropriate information within the organisations/community helps inform its members and reduce the likelihood of fear and panic.

Managing the infodemic surrounding Covid-19 is essential for the effective prevention and control of Covid-19.

The writer is an epidemiologist and public health medical specialist with the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine of University of Malaya.

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