Fighting a global ‘infodemic’

Insight

Like a virus itself, misinformation can be easily transmitted from person to person, carried by the unwitting but also the cunning, and spread quickly through a virtual world.

Infodemic (noun) – An excessive amount of information concerning a problem such that the solution is made difficult.

A new crisis is on the rise with the World Health Organization (WHO) front and centre, working tirelessly to stop the global spread of hazardous false information. Aptly named an infodemic, it started when the coronavirus first became public knowledge. Information and misinformation have spread so quickly through social media that thousands of people have consumed dozens of documented falsehoods about the coronavirus.

This might not seem new – fake news has been around for some time, and when it comes to social media it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t.

As a trusted organisation and the source of truth relating to matters of public health, even WHO isn’t immune to disinformation.

There have been several viral videos on TikTok claiming radical conspiracy theories, and altered infographics on Facebook and Instagram. These are among posts by many people and groups online, including those created specifically to intentionally spread misinformation about the coronavirus.

While WHO cannot fight each and every person or group that is spreading lies and misinformation, it can work with platforms to prevent misleading information reaching its audiences. 

WHO has since been working with the world’s largest disseminators of information – Facebook, Twitter and Google – as well as social media influencers from many corners of the globe. This effort is very new, and experts have said the cooperation between the organisation and major websites is a significant step change to stop misinformation.

Many organisations can learn from WHO’s response to a situation where you might throw your hands up claiming a loss of power or control. It has taken control of its own narrative, showing that when it comes to ensuring community safety and public education, it has a significant role to play – and so do platforms that allow information to be shared widely.