Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Misinformation Pandemic P1501 June 2020

Author: Sean R. Barulich (Send us feedback.)

Like the current pandemic, a wave of misinformation and disinformation has spread around the world.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

Organizations and research groups are tracking the flow of and exploring ways to combat the spread of misinformation. For example, researchers at Stanford University's (Stanford, California) Stanford Internet Observatory analyzed posts across multiple social-media platforms to identify how misinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) worked their way into messaging by US and Chinese officials. For example, in March 2020, Zhao Lijian, deputy director of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China (Beijing, China), used Twitter's (San Francisco, California) social network to post tweets implying that the coronavirus originated in the United States and that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan, China. These false narratives seem to have appeared on multiple social-media platforms as early as January 2020. Twitter and other social-media-platform operators have established new content-moderation policies to address misinformation about the coronavirus and covid-19. For example, Twitter recently deleted tweets by president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro because his tweets propagated misinformation—specifically, they encouraged ending social-distancing measures and advocated the use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19.

Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the roles that social-media networks and media outlets play in informing the public when a disease outbreak occurs. For example, researchers at the Institute for Scientific Interchange Foundation (ISI Foundation; Turin, Italy) looked at the correlation between media coverage and public attention to the 2015–16 Zika-virus-disease epidemic. The researchers found that views of Zika-related pages on Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation; San Francisco, California) nearly synchronized with outbreak-related news coverage. This research suggests that individuals may seek out online sources of information in response to pandemic-related news. Some research groups have already launched research centers that focus on fighting misinformation. For instance, in December 2019, the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington) launched its Center for an Informed Public, which aims to "resist strategic misinformation, promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse" (www.cip.uw.edu). Researchers at the center are trying to understand how misinformation is spreading.