Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands clean

Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands clean

5 min.
March 2020

What if the infodemic is causing more damage than the pandemic?

The world’s headlines have been dominated by COVID-19 for about two months and as the virus continues to spread this wall-to-wall coverage is likely to continue. At the time of writing, the US has banned travel from most of Europe and all six of CNN’s top new stories focus on the virus, including headlines such as “Epidemiologist: This is just the tip of the iceberg” and “Bodies ‘pile up’ in morgue as Iran feels strain of coronavirus”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has aptly coined the term “infodemic” to describe the unconstrained spread of information. Could we even have reached a level of “information terrorism”, where fearmongering – often only loosely based on facts – is terrifying readers, viewers and listeners across the globe?

This “infodemic” is a direct result of how information flows have changed over time. For most of our history, facts about events were relatively difficult for the public to access – buried in reports, press releases, interviews and academic articles. We relied on the media to collect facts and interpret them for us.

Changing media landscape

The professional media “filter” has always contained biases, but these biases used to be relatively consistent and well known: The New York Times leans left, the Daily Mail leans right, and so on. So, even though people had limited access to facts, we had relatively good access to reliable information about the facts. This information flow is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

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