The “fake news” epidemic is more real than ever before.
Typically, the accusation of “fake news” is used to discredit undesirable truths or by supporters when their favourite politicians are caught in an unflattering scenario. However, during COVID-19, fake news is directly facilitating the spread of a lethal virus.
Countless stories have questioned the legitimacy of COVID-19. In some respects, skepticism can be understood considering the novelty of the virus. Yet, from conspiracy theories about 5G cell towers to fake doctors vlogging about biological warfare, it seems everything under the sun has been blamed for causing this pandemic.
These claims are not supported by science. Many people are still vocal in their beliefs that COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu, despite its mortality rate being over 30 times higher.
As the days of quarantine have turned to months, it would have been reasonable to expect less misinformation in the media. Society knows more about COVID-19 than ever before, yet fake news is only getting worse.
When the President of the United States suggested people inject themselves with harmful chemicals such as bleach to kill the virus, it led to poison control centres across America being flooded with calls. Instead of focusing on COVID-19, medical professionals had to spend time convincing people not to inject household disinfectants.
This is not the only time a false claim about COVID-19 incited disaster. Numerous posts circulating social media claimed face masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning. This sort of misinformation has been fuel for the detrimental ‘anti-mask’ agenda.
Beyond politicians, many celebrities have misused their platforms. Former professional baseball player Aubrey Huff posted an anti-mask rant on Twitter that received more than two million views. He claimed “it’s not healthy to be breathing in your own CO2 all the time.”
This widespread lie comes without any scientific evidence and refutes the now-common knowledge that masks are the first line of defense against COVID-19. When those with large social media platforms discourage wearing a mask, they are helping spread this virus. We owe it to the sick and dying not to treat human lives as a political talking point.
As science inches closer to a potential COVID-19 vaccine, conspiracy theories regarding its efficacy and true intentions have already emerged.
There have always been misinformed skeptics of vaccines, although any links between vaccines and causing autism have been routinely disproven. Any government-issued vaccine to prevent COVID-19 will be rigorously tested before distribution. Yet, from a poll of over 1,600 Americans, 28 per cent believed a COVID-19 vaccine would be a ploy to insert microchips.
Vaccines can only work through creating herd immunity. This is only possible if the majority of the population gets vaccinated, which requires widespread acceptance of its merits. Vocal opposition to a vaccine will unfortunately deter enough people to make herd immunity an impossibility within the population.
All the fake news surrounding COVID-19 is only prolonging the pandemic, and the sheer number of outrageous claims about the virus is dangerous to public health. Fortunately, there are steps to ensure lies are not spreading around like the virus itself.
The best way to combat fake news is by reading the actual news. Developing media literacy skills is important to identify accurate and non-partisan news sources. If in doubt, read several articles on the same topic and examine the overlap. While all media is somewhat biased, a few minutes of research is all it takes to identify non-factual reporting.
It’s crucial to investigate bizarre claims. Credible news reporting will include links or citations to the topics in question, particularly COVID-related science. There is often a discrepancy between what actually happened and how it was reported—sometimes it can be worth skimming through a scientific journal to find the actual conclusions from a study.
Finally, we all have a responsibility not to share information without first fact-checking it. Spreading an uneducated rumour to others has dire consequences.
We cannot end COVID-19 without a commitment to the unbiased truth.
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