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Misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic

The year 2020 has been nothing short of a rather unpleasant surprise, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since this ‘event’ came completely out of the blue, without any precedent, a majority of the world’s population has been solely dependent on the news for any kind of information regarding the virus and most importantly, how to prevent it. However, unfortunately, with an increasing demand for news comes the aspect of misinformation, some may argue- disinformation, involving rumours and speculations which ultimately harm public perception and opinion. It is important for people to know how to filter out misinformation and acquire facts about the pandemic to prevent further misconceptions and complications.

Firstly, what is the meaning of the term ‘misinformation’? It’s false news which is not intended to deceive others. It may be an honest mistake. In reference to the pandemic, there have been various cases of misinterpretation and misinformation which have later proven to be inaccurate.

For example, towards the beginning of the year, during the onset of the coronavirus, there were speculations which claimed that dogs could cause coronavirus. This rumour was started when a domestic dog in Hong Kong tested positive for Covid. However, it was later proved to be inaccurate since it was actually the owner that tested positive and the virus spread from the owner to the pet dog without infecting the animal itself.

Rather, the coronavirus is spread through direct contact (for example-droplets) and can be prevented by use of sanitizers and maintaining the norms of social distancing. Along with these, there are also various misinterpretations with regard to prevention or symptoms of the coronavirus.

Rumours spelled out that one does not have Covid if he or she can hold their breath for ten seconds without any discomfort. With consideration to technicalities, this rumour proved to be highly inaccurate since many young patients can hold their breath for much longer while older people cannot do so due to other conditions they may have which means that they are not necessarily infected.

Therefore, the only safe way to know whether one is infected is to get a laboratory test done since that provides full assurance. A few theories suggested that eating garlic would prevent the infection. This was believed due to the antimicrobial properties of garlic. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) later confirmed that there was no evidence supporting this particular statement. At a point of time, it was also believed that pneumonia vaccines could be used to kill the virus but there is no legitimate evidence supporting this since various such vaccines do not affect the virus in any way.

There are many more such cases of misinformation which people believe till date. These rumours cause a hasty shift in the focus of people around the world, therefore alienating the actual effective ways of prevention of the virus.

However, why do people choose to believe in such notions? Hundreds of thousands of people believed in such rumours, that was not a secret. However, why did they choose to believe in something that sounded so ‘made up’ or abstract? The simple reason is that rumours are based around an underlying human bias. We as human beings are biased creatures and always lean toward a given side of things be it in terms of political stances, religion, caste, sex, income or race. It may sound unethical or wrong, but it is the simple universal truth. They are designed or ‘spun’ to attract or even ‘trigger’ such biases and partialities.

Therefore, it is important to have reliable sources of information available at all times to prevent such misinterpretations from getting to one’s head. The least one can do is listen to short daily podcasts by the New York Times and the Financial Times on Spotify. They provide the daily dose of reliable data you require. You can subscribe to some newspapers or newsletters by New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Financial Times or even Forbes. While reading about various issues, it is a good idea to read both neutral and opinionated articles since they provide deep insight to both sides of the story which expands your knowledge on the issue and also helps you in forming an opinion about it.

Also, try not to use social media for your daily dose of information since your feed is tailored to satisfy your beliefs and opinions and not provide factual information. If you come across a post about a certain issue, make sure to search it up on Google to confirm whether it is legitimate before reposting or sharing it. These measures will help in maximum filtering out of misinformation so that you can have clear opinions and be aware of the various issues going on around you along with ensuring safety from the virus.

Misinformation tends to stir public opinion since they hold information which may trigger one’s sentiments or provide reassurance to one’s public opinions. However, in order to get past issues like this pandemic and maintain safety throughout the world, it is important that we ignore and prevent the spreading of misinformation and stick to approved and reliable sources.

Written by Aahi Guha Thakurta and Urvi Agarwal

Illustrated by Anoushka Damani

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