What can we learn from the infodemic that has been as present throughout pandemic as the virus itself?
This may be labelled the pandemic that flourished on poor communications. From the very nature of the way the news of the virus broke, to the conspiracy theories and false claims that have circled since.
The daily totals, country comparisons and, certainly within the UK, lockdown recommendations, requirements and lifts – you’d be hard pressed not to find the infodemic as tightly connected to the virus as the UK Governments’ inability to stick with a consistent tone and style to its communications.
Fake news has long been criticised for influencing politics but if public health has been impacted, what more will be done?
The likes of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have taken some action to direct users towards reliable sources of medical information, warning users over misinformation (take a bow Twitter for calling out Donald Trump). But this hasn’t stopped the spread of videos promoting chlorine dioxide bleach as a cure for Covid 19, or content blaming the virus on 5G networks or racist posts blaming Chinese eating habits.
But this is more than just a ‘few’ rogue stories that should be labelled as part and parcel of social media platforms. Italy’s Bruno Kessler Foundation began pulling out posts linked to fake news and misinformation. You can read a little more about this research here, but the upshot is, around 40% of the tweets they found came from accounts controlled by bots.
Tortoise Media have a fascinating live analysis of misinformation being searched for in Google’s Fact Checker here and argue that it’s mutating across platforms and proving difficult to eradicate.
While platforms will continue to be pressed about where they should stand when it comes to moderating content, it’s the current impact and influence of misinformation on messaging apps that continues to cause to concern. Information being shared on WhatsApp groups for example have been said to undermine attempts for the more public-facing misinformation being shared.
WhatsApp put in changes earlier this year to prevent mass group messages being forwarded more than 5 times and limited the number of users being communicated with at any one time, but does that go far enough?
The echo chambers that social platforms, messaging apps and bots create can lead to a perspective for some users totally at odds another – perhaps highlighted by ‘Covid Parties’ in Texas to test whether the severity of Covid-19 was a “hoax”.
If political outcomes have not proved enough to demand more action and a pandemic is exemplifying the battle to find a cure for an infodemic, what will it take to tackle the communications problem we’re facing?
For those of us delivering public-facing campaigns and targeting messages to our audiences, how do we combat alternative messages without turning our audience off to the truth?