Aside from the coronavirus itself, the epidemic of misinformation is one of the reasons why we are still in this pandemic.
The overabundance of false, misleading, and potentially harmful misinformation has made it more difficult for everyone to identify verified facts and advice from trusted sources, such as the Department of Health (DOH) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
On a personal level, misinformation about health and scientific topics – for example, unwarranted and exaggerated fears regarding vaccinations or complete trust in alternative medicine – can do a lot of harm and can even be deadly.
On a societal level, persistent misinformation regarding political issues can slowly unravel the fabric of society and create considerable harm. On a global scale, we are all witnessing the effect of misinformation about climate change.
But why do we still believe misinformation even after the lies are proven wrong? One reason is that we are unable to reconcile the fact that someone (the source of misinformation) is lying with what we feel is an expression of honesty. It is not easy to believe that someone we care about (a family member or friend) or someone we admire or someone we feel is trustworthy (a politician we voted for) is lying to us.
Denial of reality is a way we unconsciously protect ourselves from the discomfort of having to confront the fact that a friend or family member or trusted leader is lying to us.
Another reason is our selfish pride. As human beings, we can have inflated opinions of our knowledge and our abilities. We cannot or do not want to admit that we believed something that is obviously untrue. It also depends on the kind of lie – it is likely to stick when it conforms to our pre-existing political, religious, or social point of view. This means that if you believe something for political or religious reasons, it’s far harder to change your mind.
Stopping the pandemic will only be possible if we also stop the infodemic (epidemic of misinformation). Whenever you see content online that you believe is false or misleading, report it to the hosting social media platform. How? Check out this article.
If you want to know more about why we believe lies, check this podcast from Bill Gates and Rashida Jones. Do not believe everything you read, especially on social media. Read the whole article (not just the headline) and when in doubt, do not share. Share only after you have verified the information. Stay safe, from COVID-19 and misinformation.
Dr. Melvin Sanicas (@Vaccinologist) is a physician-scientist specializing in vaccines, infectious diseases, and global health.