In a time of a pandemic—as in a war—the truth is often the first casualty.
Throughout history, every major outbreak has its own share of rumors. From smallpox to the Black Plague, human beings have been more exposed to viral misinformation than the disease itself.
In fact, it is these rumors that made parents strap dead chickens to their children and doctors to bleed their patients to combat diseases. All these practices that stemmed from misinformation made things worse and even led many to their deaths.
Effects of misinformation
Today, as the world battles a new virus, COVID-19, misinformation has greatly affected how countries and their citizens respond and react. Even government officials fell prey to fake news without further research and verification—a dangerous predicament especially in a time when people look up to the government for information. Secrecy and lack of transparency are also enemies during this time.
In Ukraine, a two-day riot occurred because residents went berserk when they discovered that passengers of a plane from Wuhan, China were going to be housed in their area. Though these passengers all tested negative, said a government official, rumors circulated that they were all infected. Barricades were erected and fires were set to keep the buses from entering the town. Police and armored vehicles pushed back the protesters. Tensions escalated, and when the buses carrying the passengers from Wuhan arrived, the people shattered the windows.
Fake news on social media
In the Philippines, misinformation has always been a problem, especially among social media users. Before the government imposed the community quarantine, people have been sharing information on a total lockdown (which means no one will be allowed to go out, even for essentials) for the whole country. This led to hoarding and panic buying in supermarkets and groceries, of which the effect is still felt now.
With all these events, spreading misinformation has not changed even after so many years later. With various channels that shape the narrative, people may turn to unreliable sources, which may lead to further complications while everyone is practically trying to stay alive.
The truth is our savior
One must always remember that the first line of defense in this pandemic is accurate, trusted information. It slows the spread of the virus, sparing millions of lives, and gives ample time for authorities to roll out treatments.
So the next time “information” about COVID-19 pops into your news feed, maybe it’s better to verify the sources first before sharing. You’ll be doing a ton of good to the people by slowing the propagation of viral misinformation.
As Pope Francis says, “Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas.”