In early February, with the rapid spread of the global epidemic, the World Health Organization issued a warning about an “infodemic,” a wave of fake news, and misinformation about the deadly new disease on social media.
Now promising to COVID-19 vaccines, WHO and experts warn that the same phenomenon could jeopardize the spread of vaccination programs aimed at ending suffering.
“Coronavirus disease is the first pandemic in history where technology and social media are used on a large scale to keep people safe, informed, productive and connected,” WHO said. “At the same time, the technology we rely on to stay connected and informed is enabling and empowering an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and continues to compromise pandemic control measures.”
More than 1.4 million people have died in China since the outbreak broke out in late last year, but three developers are applying for approval for their vaccines to be used in early December.
However, beyond logistics, governments must also combat skepticism about vaccines being developed at record speed at a time when social media is a tool for both information and error about the virus.
WHO described an infodemia as an excessive abundance of information both online and offline, including “deliberate attempts to spread misinformation.”
Last month, a study from Cornell University in the United States found that US President Donald Trump was the world’s largest cause of COVID-19 misinformation during the outbreak.
In April, Trump considered the possibility of using disinfectants inside the body to cure the virus, and also promoted unproven treatments.
Since January, AFP has published more than 2,000 verification articles that cleared false claims about the novel coronavirus.
“Without proper trust and accurate information, diagnostic tests are not used, vaccination campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) fail to achieve their goals, and the virus continues to evolve,” WHO said. Said.
Three vaccine developers – Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca / Oxford University are leading the pack – and some governments are already planning to begin vaccinating the most vulnerable this year.
But with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or WhatsApp acting as vectors for suspicious facts and fake news, “disinformation has now reached an unprecedented scale,” said Sylvain Delouvee, a Social Psychology researcher at the University of Rennes-2.
Rory Smith of the anti-disinformation website First Draft agrees.
“From an information perspective, the (coronavirus crisis) not only highlighted the magnitude of misinformation around the world, but also highlighted the negative impact of misinformation on reliance on vaccines, institutions and scientific evidence wider,” he said.
Rachel O’Brien, head of the WHO vaccination department, said she was concerned that the misinformation spread by the agency’s so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement could deter people from vaccinating against the coronavirus.
“We are very concerned about this and are concerned that people are getting their information from reliable sources, aware that there is a lot of false, intentionally false, or unintentionally false information out there,” he told AFP.
Steven Wilson, a professor at Brandeis University and co-author of the study entitled “Social Media and Vaccination Hesitations” published in the British Medical Journal last month, saw a link between online disinformation campaigns and the decline in vaccination.
“My fear about the impact of disinformation on social media in the context of COVID-19 is that even if their fears do not have a scientific basis, it will increase the number of individuals hesitating to vaccinate,” he said. “Any vaccine is as effective as our capacity to spread it across a population.”
For example, among the more bizarre claims of conspiracy theorists is the idea that the new coronavirus epidemic is a hoax or part of an elite plan led by people like Bill Gates to control the population.
And these groups say vaccination programs are a shield for people to place microscopic chips to watch them.
Such concepts can find fertile ground at a time when surveys have shown that people in some countries like Sweden and France are skeptical about getting vaccines, especially when treatments are developed in record time without long-term studies. their effectiveness and possible side effects.
A survey conducted by Iposos last month suggested that only 54 percent of French people would vaccinate themselves against the coronavirus, 10 percentage points lower than the US, 22 points lower than Canada and 33 points lower than India.
In 15 countries, 73 percent of people said they were willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, four percentage points lower than in a previous survey in August.
But it’s not just vaccines – more and more people are expressing a growing distrust of institutions, experts say.
“The common theme among conspiracy theorists” is that “our elites” lie to us, “said Delouvee of the University of Rennes-2.
Disinformation is based on growing distrust of all institutional authority, whether government or scientific.
“When people do not have easy access to reliable information about vaccines and distrust of actors and institutions dealing with vaccines is high, misinformation narratives rush to fill the gap,” he said in the First Draft report.
© 2020 AFP