Treating the COVID-19 infodemic as an epidemic may help combat viral misinformation

A report released in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests treating the purported COVID-19 infodemic as an epidemic, to counter viral misinformation.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to first wreak havoc in early-2020, top government officials and internet users of American, Chinese, and Iranian governments facilitated propaganda surrounding its origins.

In the new report, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania recommends implementing three key elements to halt the deceptive spread of information: real-time surveillance, accurate diagnosis, and rapid response.

The report cites right-leaning outlets that purportedly had spread misleading statements regarding the pandemic on October 12, 2020.

“To halt such misinformation cascades, sensitive surveillance systems need to be triggered at the inflection point of the infodemic curve, before dangerous misinformation goes viral,” the NEJM report states.

“A finely tuned system would ensure that a response doesn’t occur too early, thereby risking drawing attention to misinformation, or too late, after deceptions and misconceptions have taken hold.”

The combatting of misinformation and entirely deceptive information online could yield more substantial confidence in vaccines, in which nearly 15 percent of Americans are still uncertain about the efficacy of vaccines, according to research data.

“To make it possible to effectively interdict viral deception we not only need reliable means of finding it but also the wherewithal to predict when, where, and how it will spread,” one author of the study wrote in the report. “Just as scientists need to be able to distinguish one disease from another, infodemiologists need to distinguish different types of misinformation.”

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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