A shocking study conducted by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found a significant number of people around the world succumbed to the ill effects of COVID-19 misinformation shared on social media.
It found over 5000 hospitalizations from around the world which were recorded after people fell prey to wrong, discredited ‘remedies’ to ‘cure’ the novel coronavirus via absurd means like drinking methanol and ingesting huge volumes of garlic.
Sometimes people believed advice resembling credible medical info, the other time they performed insensible acts like ingesting volumes of vitamins and even drinking cow urine to battle the disease, the BBC reports.
The study sought to find the result of ‘infodemic’ during a time of crisis and the ill-effect it has on the public.
Infodemic is the term used to refer to the sudden flood of information in a time of a crisis that can lead to negative effects.
Since rumors, stigma and conspiracy theory spreads like wildfire during the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers behind the study “followed and examined COVID-19–related rumors, stigma, and conspiracy theories circulating on online platforms, including fact-checking agency websites, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers, and their impacts on public health.”
The recipe of damage
To disseminate the results of infodemic and its ill effect on public health, the researchers dug into information released between December 31st, 2019, and April 1st, 2020.
For the uninitiated, the novel coronavirus started to spread by December last year, and in March 2020, the WHO declared the virus as a cause of the pandemic.
News articles published during the foresaid time-frame were analyzed to compare and contrast. “We identified 2,311 reports of rumors, stigma, and conspiracy theories in 25 languages from 87 countries,” researchers write in the Study.
Researchers found the majority of the misinformation (24%) was related to the illness, mortality, and transmission of COVID-19 and the least misinformation (15%) was regarding the origin of the disease. Other fake info was related to control measures (21%), cure (19%), violence (1%), and miscellaneous (20%).
“Misinformation fueled by rumors, stigma, and conspiracy theories can have potentially serious implications on the individual and community if prioritized over evidence-based guidelines,” the Study abstract says.
Health and care-related misinformation is not the only ill effect of the pandemic. Some incidents related to 5G tower arson were also recorded in the UK, where unruly mob burnt down internet masts irked over misinformation that claimed 5G networks spread COVID-19.
“Health agencies must track misinformation associated with the COVID-19 in real-time, and engage local communities and government stakeholders to debunk misinformation,” the study urged.
The BBC noted, misinformation spree is viable to make the public take wrong decisions that might newly erupt with the outcome of a vaccine. Anti-vaccine campaigners might use social media to persuade people from not protecting themselves.