northeastern university seal
EXPLORE NORTHEASTERN
News > Blog

COVID-19: How to tackle COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

In this anxious time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s only natural for people to want to gather information. Especially given the fact that many of us are staying indoors due to lockdowns and self-quarantine, we inevitably spend more time online. There’s so much information on the internet, TV, radio, and other media outlets now, it’s not always easy to tell which is truly reliable. Factually inaccurate or exaggerated information exacerbates social anxiety and can potentially be harmful or dangerous for public safety. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), has acknowledged this “coronavirus infodemic” and announced WHO’s plans to cooperate with social media giants –  such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and TikTok – to tackle misinformation being spread on social media. The responsibility of absorbing the correct information is on individual information consumers. In this blog, we’ll explore the right ways to gather information to help us stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Why is staying informed important?

The hype around COVID-19 isn’t based on nothing. The sheer number of people who are infected and deceased is exponentially increasing daily all around the globe, and unpeopled streets and empty shelves at grocery stores tell the story of this trying time for all. However, inaccurate or exaggerated information can lead people to build up anxiety, potentially hurt those that are most vulnerable. The recent nationwide shortage of toilet paper is a good example that well demonstrates the consequences of misinformation. While the shortages of masks and other disinfectant items are expected and understandable (although not ideal) due to increased usage, toilet paper isn’t a type of product that people need to be concerned about. In the U.S., most toilet paper is produced domestically, and people don’t use more toilet paper because there’s a virus spreading. Knowing simple facts like these can dissuade one from overreacting. People who don’t have the option to stock up and those who actually need the item at the moment are unfairly affected as a result. In addition, it’s especially important to follow the instructions from credible authorities, rather than absorbing rumors or myths on how to protect oneself from COVID-19 (e.g. using essential oils or saltwater). Knowing how to properly respond to the pandemic can potentially save one’s life and is always beneficial for greater public safety and health.

Beware of social media

Social media can be helpful for people to stay connected while social gathering is widely discouraged to contain the fast-spreading disease. However, we need to be careful about what we absorb as meaningful information on social media. Social media nowadays is another lucrative platform on which businesses advertise their products. Especially now that people fervently search for information on the coronavirus, many companies see this curiosity as a money-making opportunity. Coupled with unfounded conspiracy theories and rumors, social media can be dangerous for those without strong digital literacy.

How to gather reliable information

In order to protect ourselves from various types of misinformation, it is important to keep the following tips in mind when seeking information:

  • Check who’s sharing the information: rely on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals
  • Utilize the good online sources of information

Lastly, don’t forget to tune into what the leaders of your local governments and communities are sharing. This information can be directly relevant to your daily life and reinforce the sense of togetherness during this isolating time. As an effort to provide its community with helpful and relevant information, the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) at Northeastern University has launched an educational website that offers a comprehensive digital curriculum: “COVID-19: How to be Safe & Resilient”. Rather than focusing on what to do, this brief, easy-to-follow curriculum shares lessons on how to do those things that we’re told to do. For example, we know we have to clean the surfaces that we touch often – do you know how we can do this in the right way? Please visit www.resilience-ed.org to learn more.

Conclusion

Information is power, but misinformation can be poisonous. It’s crucial that we filter and judge information critically to thrive during this trying time. Having the right information can make our communities resilient by freeing us from an unnecessary level of anxiety, as well as promoting confidence when facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay healthy and resilient!

References:

#COVID19: Social media both a blessing and a curse during coronavirus pandemic

Be careful where you get your news about coronavirus

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Coronavirus Disease 2019: Myth vs. Fact

Coronavirus: how the WHO is leading the social media fight against misinformation

Facebook, Amazon, Google and more met with WHO to figure out how to stop coronavirus misinformation

Is There Really a Toilet Paper Shortage?