A new word [ greek to many yet ] has entered the political and social lexicon recently . As per Macmillan dictionary , Infodemic means an excessive amount of information about a problem, which is sometimes incorrect and can have a negative effect on finding a solution . The 1st WHO Infodemiology [another new buzz word] Conference talks about how the infodemics affect the world currently and reflects how it can be managed. Last week , when President Donald Trump announced that he and the first lady tested +ve for Covid -19 , considerable volume of misinformation which followed in the international media on the President’s health once again shows America is fighting an ‘infodemic’ during the corona virus pandemic . A history of inconsistencies and lack of transparency which preceded the President’s illness have heightened distrust in updates on the President’s health now.
A joint statement by WHO, UN, UNICEF , UNDP , UNESCO, UNAIDS, ITU, UN Global Pulse and IFRC stated ‘ The Corona disease [COVID -19] is the first pandemic in history in which technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe , informed , productive and connected. At the same time , the technology we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes the measures to control the pandemic.
When the Spanish Flu created devastation and misery for a third of the global population at that time during 1918-20 due to an H1N1 Influenza A virus and affected 500 million people , there was no misinformation . Probably , nations had no vested interest except ameliorating the sufferings of humanity . The SARS epidemic which followed in 2003 also affected 26 countries and resulted in 8000 cases and there was no fake news even then . Today , we live in a different paradigm with affluence coexisting with abject poverty and attempts to dominate the world politically with financial muzzle . Bombarding repeated and relentless 24*7 communication through print ,electronic and social media engineered by vested interests is a fertile ground for the spread of Infodemics .
In the case of Corona virus , its very entry in Dec 2019 was mired in controversies . The Wuhan Institute of Virology is accused of hiding it and misinforming the world about it . Conspiracy theorists attributed sinister Biological War objectives to a laboratory created demon to annihilate part of the humanity to serve the political aims of China . Some other sources term this pandemic as a ” Plandemic ” pre-planned to serve global business interests !
Later , people also accused WHO of being partisan in its credentials for endorsing the Chinese claims . Even today , to the general public across the world , the Covid -19 statistics put across daily by various countries are suspect and many attribute inconsistency in reporting cases of death , immunisation , testing protocol and recovery rates . Personally I rely on the Worldometer figures published by a private organisation DADAX from the US on their website daily .
In a country like India with a maximum spread in E Commerce and social media with the level of literacy not being an inhibiting factor , flood gates have been opened for false claims for immunity boosting through common food products , many spurious formulations etc . Ever heard of a particular brand of detergent preventing the spread of corona virus through clothes or a bakery product helping immunity from Covid -19 infection ? .Spurious sanitisers , sub standard masks , and other protective clothing have flooded the markets . Unscrupulous health care agencies exploit the grossly inadequate public infrastructure by overcharging treatment , faking covid test results for asymptomatic cases to attract more volunteers for testing et all .
Why did this INFODEMIC come about now ? What is at stake for the agencies who indulge in this new media spread disease ? . For an answer , we need to go deeper to find out who all benefit from the pandemic . Not an easy task when we are still susceptible and vulnerable for getting infected by the virus !
Managing the Covid -19 Infodemic
Immunising the public against misinformation
UN tackles ‘ Infodemic’ of misinformation and cyber crime in Covid -19 crisis
Covid -19 Infodemic -The Lancet Papers