Since the pandemic began, misinformation has been spreading like wildfire. There were posts on social media claiming that the Covid19 variant was actually made in a lab in Wuhan and that the Chinese government ‘deliberately’ let it out for ‘population control’.
There were posts saying that people should not worry about the Covid19 pandemic, as it ‘just a flu’ and since the introduction of vaccines, there has been posts claiming that the vaccine ‘kills more people than Covid19 itself’.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that “misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines is keeping people from getting the shots, driving an increase in cases around the world”. Other political world figures have blamed conspiracy theorists for the increase of misinformation spreading on social media.
In Ireland, conspiracy theorists, far right groups such as the Irish National Party and Irish Freedom Party and anti-vaccine activists have united together to ‘debunk’ the public health message. This has led to the increase of misinformation being spread both online and in person, as they have held multiple public demonstrations outlining their anti-lockdown views.
The College View spoke to the editor of The Beacon, Annie De Bhal, about her views on the spread of Covid19 misinformation.
“The far right is mostly an issue in regards to social media, who platform their views readily, especially on Facebook. I think the bigger issue though is the government putting capitalism ahead of people, opening up and continuing to open up, making people think it’s safe, despite rising numbers when really we should be in lockdown again,” she said.
What de Bhal touches on is the truth, it is not just anti-establishment actors that spread misinformation, Governments must communicate their policies clearly if they expect people to follow them.
Our own politicians here in Ireland are spreading misinformation by making people believe that Covid19 is not a threat in schools or by opening up too quickly and claiming that people will be safe going to work or nightclubs.
Policies that don’t make sense to the public, also turn people away from following them, such as the old policy that you had to spend €9 on food in a pub before you were allowed to drink alcohol.
As we know food is not going to stop the spread of Covid, but in reality, purchasing food while you wait for your drink just means you are going to spend longer at the pub than usual.
However, misinformation on social media seems to trump this as a massive problem. The HSE themselves have reported more than 1,000 social media posts for misinformation about the Covid19 pandemic and the vaccination programme.
The HSE has said that “Twitter has worked closely with us since before the pandemic, and other social networks since the start of the pandemic, to signpost users of their platforms, to factual, evidence-based information on the HSE website on a range of topics”.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have vowed to tackle misinformation by removing posts with false claims and signposting users to the right information. WhatsApp has added a search feature to help users debunk any Covid19 misinformation.
While this is good, these social media companies have been criticised for being too slow or not tackling every bit of misinformation that spreads about the vaccine or the virus itself.
Some influencers and celebrities have unfortunately used their platform to spread misinformation. For example, singer Nicki Minaj claimed that her cousin’s friend got the vaccine and became impotent.
While many laughed at this, Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, immediately debunked this ‘myth’ and said that Minaj ‘should be ashamed of herself’ for spreading such a lie to her 23 million followers on Twitter.
American Conservative, Candace Owens, has also used Twitter to downplay the virus and the vaccine. Owens recently has branded Sesame Street as “child predators” and claimed that Sesame Street character Big Bird is “the big pharma pervert dressed up as Big Bird”.
This comes after Big Bird promoted the Covid19 vaccine in the show. Other Republican politicians started calling Big Bird a “communist”. Sesame Street has a history of promoting different medical vaccines throughout the show.
If people are worried that they might be taking in misinformation on social media, then they should get their information solely from The WHO, The HSE website, The Department of Health Website or they can check whether any viral misinformation has been debunked on TheJournal.ie online newspaper.
It is best to listen to the medical experts, but be warned as many medical experts have jumped on the misinformation bandwagon too, most notably Dr Marcus DeBrun and Dr Anne McCloskey.