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The rumor spread about the Corona virus can have devastating consequences

Media researcher Professor Orla Vigsø at JMG explains why it is so important that the authorities communicate the same about the new corona virus (covid-19).

The word infodemic was used by the WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Munich Security Conference on 15 february 2020, and since then it has been used numerous times to point to the dangers of disinformation.

Information about how to do the right thing

Disinformation has been on the agenda for some years now in connection with election campaigns and the Cambridge Analytica case, but when it comes to the corona virus, it is not just a question of “lies”,
something that WHO takes very seriously:

“What is at stake during an outbreak is making sure people will do the right thing to control the disease or to mitigate its impact. So it is not only information to make sure people are informed; it is also making sure people are informed to act appropriately”, as Sylvie Briand, director of Infectious Hazards Management at WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme and architect of WHO’s strategy to counter the infodemic risk, put it in an interview with The Lancet.

Disinformation in connection with a pandemics can have devastating consequences, not just to the individuals but to society as a whole, if people do things that might spread the disease instead of limiting it, and e.g. not seek medical attention when it is needed.

Disinformation in social media

For some years now, The Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) has been focusing its attention towards the dangers of disinformation, but as many other aspects of society, this was accentuated by the Corona virus.

Especially in social media, disinformation is being disseminated, both about the disease, its spreading and development throughout the world, but also about how to act as a citizen.

And as the Internet is global, this information is spread across borders, which means that what may have been correct information to start with is taken in by people in a completely different context, where the same information is not applicable due to a different situation with different constraints and possibilities.

Listen to the authorities

So, what to do about this?

The advice is to always listen to the authorities, that is the official voices from involved organizations – The Public Health Agency of Sweden etc.

That is why it is paramount that these organizations communicate the same message.

Everybody knows that experts have differences of opinion within their field of work, but in order to succeed in fighting the disinformation present in media and on the Internet, the authorities need to present the citizens with arguments against this disinformation and in favour of the proper way to act.

If different voices from authorities present contradictory information and advice, the result will be that citizens cannot distinguish between the authorities and other voices. Everything just become competing voices, and people lose trust in the authorities.

And in such a case, who can you then trust?

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