We’re not just fighting a pandemic, “we’re fighting an infodemic.”
According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, we’re not just fighting a pandemic, “we’re fighting an infodemic.”
That’s certainly one way to put it—from peddling untested cures to calling COVID-19 a lab creation to branding the pandemic a hoax altogether, there’s been no shortage of misinformation over the past several months.
“It’s become clear that cities and states cannot assume an equal level of knowledge and trust from the residents who receive their messages. Boosting diagnostic capacity won’t help if part of the population refuses tests because they don’t think COVID-19 exists. What’s more, debunking myths is a lengthy, time-consuming process, and the ensuing oversaturated media environment could end up driving people away from accurate news simply out of information fatigue.
Scientists and healthcare professionals are the most qualified to refute misinformation, but they’re also needed on the front lines to save lives, conduct research, and develop a vaccine. And they’re often ill-prepared for the U.S. media arena, where anti-intellectualism and partisan politics have created an environment far from the measured debates of academic conferences.
A successful public health response in the U.S. will depend partly on our technical capabilities—contact tracing, testing, hospital treatment, and the like—but it will also depend on how we can engage with different segments of the population. Liaising with local-level opinion leaders, building digital literacy, and hyper-targeting messages for a variety of audiences will prove to be crucial elements for communication. Let us hope that the U.S. uses them.