By Catalina Parada, COO of AXON Marketing & Communications and Medical Doctor of the Autonomous University of Guadalajara (UAG)
Covid-19 – popularly known as coronavirus – is already part of our lives, it invaded our conversations and daily routines, the agenda of the media and governments. The health crisis is worldwide and information is more viral than the virus itself. The issue is, is all the information we consume correct? Do we check the information before sharing it? Are we helping to learn more about this threat or are we contributing to misinformation and panic?
Information and communication are the best tools to stop contagion, but misused can become in a «weapon» which could worsen the crisis. Transparency is a key to fighting both covid-19 and disinformation.
China had a hard time understanding it. The doctor Li Wenliang, who died from this virus, became known for being the first to give an advice to the scientific community about the dangers of the disease. He was censured by the authorities and accused of spreading erroneous rumors. Alarms went on too late and the spread of the virus became exponential. The lack of knowledge of the population caused that massive events such as the lunar new year (which in China mobilizes crowds to its home cities) went to take the situation out of control.
This virus was recently classified as a pandemic. The epidemic is the increase of infectious cases registered in a specific geographical area, while a pandemic is the presence of those cases simultaneously in different countries. The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Clarissa Etienne has been very emphatic in highlighting that this term refers only to said geographical distribution and not to the severity of the disease.
This is the first pandemic to occur in a globalized world. In 2009, when N1H1 happened, internet and network penetration was much lower. There are 4.5 billion internet users in today’s world, 67% of the world population uses smartphones and 49% social networks, according to We Are Social 2020. This new situation has been the basis of a great information avalanche, which increases in size every day. That’s why, it is important to communicate objectively and truthfully, to be clear and not to give rise to misunderstandings, assumptions and / or changes in reality.
The main responsibility in this context is to be able to inform the population without causing panic, but giving awareness. Ethics and responsibility are implicit duties in times of crisis.
THE THREAT OF FAKE NEWS AND INFOXICATION
We are the generation of «prosumers», individuals with permanent and unlimited access to tools that allow us to consume and produce content with immediacy as ally bus also as enemy. This generates that the information sources are multiplied by the number of users of networks and the internet. What we find online can come from anywhere, making difficult to know its legitimacy and veracity.
According to a study carried out in February of this year by the company Caspersky, specialized in computer security, 70% of Latin Americans do not know how to detect or differentiate a false news from a real one, and even 16% do not even know the meaning of the «Fake News” term. This panorama is not very far from what is happening around the world.
The Covid-19 made this problem more evident. Nobody takes time to verify, dropping this new concept of «Infoxication», which refers to poisoning due to excess information.
Whatsapp spam chains are one of the most frequent ways in which excess information reaches us, in the form of tips such as «homemade recipes to treat and / or prevent coronavirus» or «how to treat coronavirus symptoms at home». None of this was given by any health entity or international organization. At best, this information is harmless, but it often puts your health at risk.
What do covid-19 and infoxication have in common? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), older adults (along with those with pre-existing medical conditions) are at increased risk of complications from this virus. It is the same population that tends to invest a large amount of time on social networks and is therefore exposed to receiving erroneous and unverified information.
The vaccine to treat the covid-19 haven’t been found yet, but there is a “cure” for the infoxication. On the one hand, being aware that adherence to the veracity of information is responsibility of everyone who has the ability to deliver a message. It is vitally important to check the credibility and confidence of the sources consulted before reproducing the information. Official, governmental entities and their spokespersons; International organizations; research from certified universities; Communications media with scientific backgrounds and eminences are among the reliable and verifiable sources.
The spread of misinformation is just as dangerous as covid-19 itself. Ultimately, individuals and organizations are responsible for verifying the data of what is decided to ring and the impact, both positive and negative, that this may generate.