Over the last few months misinformation has been spreading almost as quickly as the coronavirus. Social media has been inundated with false claims and misleading statements.
I’m sure barely any of us have logged onto our Facebook without seeing Aunt Marge sharing an article titled “Garlic, the COVID Cure you never knew you needed.”
It is not surprising. During times of panic and distress, such as a global pandemic, people become desperate for some good news, even if that news is likely not based in reality. John Cook, an expert on misinformation with George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication has emphasized that “a calamitous event” like the one we are in the midst of experiencing, creates a “very fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories.”
We are inundated with information everywhere we look regarding the coronavirus, yet most of this info is not what we are after. We long for a ‘quick fix’, a voice assuring us it’s really not that bad.
When we can find no such thing it puts us in a vulnerable position where we may be more open to outlandish claims.
Yet the problem with misinformation in times of Corona goes beyond what’s normal, and that is due to its source. When leading figures like Tesla CEO Alon Musk or the President of the U.S. are among those spreading these outlandish claims or bogus statements, that is when things can go very wrong.
There are millions of people who take Musk’s word as holy utterances and view Trump’s opinion’s as bible. When Musk, who has 33m followers on Twitter, wrote of chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug as being a potential COVID treatment, a sentiment shared by Trump, the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine observed an instant and drastic spike in an online demand for the prescription medication.
That is the scary part-when incredibly influential figures make claims, they lead to action. In this case, action that could have put thousands of Americans lives at risk.
It is not the first, nor the last example of Musk using his platform to share Coronavirus claims that are questionable, at best. His other faux pas, listed eloquently in an article in The Guardian include decreeing pandemic panic “dumb”, falsely stating children are “essentially immune” from the virus, predicting the US top have no more cases of COVID-19 by the end of April and pronouncing shelter-in-place orders “fascist”.
While many conspiracy theories or bogus claims will need to nothing more than your aunt stinking of garlic, we ought to be careful and be aware. It is up to each one of us with a head on our shoulders to de-bunk myths whenever we can. Musk has shown us that with money does not come common sense and Trump has proven that with leadership does not come levelheadedness.
Which means, in these times we are all responsible for curbing misinformation, before anyone else gets hurt.