Coronavirus (895) Definition of infodemic (6)

14 August, 2020

Thanks for your latest message Chris, (Definition of infodemic (5)), very happy to be having this discussion.

"I gave the example of the use of hydroxychloroquine: how would Neil and I have classified that when it was first proposed by known French biomedical researchers in what appeared to be a reputable scientific journal? We would have presumed it was accurate, I guess."

'Accuracy' and 'inaccuracy' are better described in terms of a spectrum rather than absolute, watertight compartments, and will change over time as new evidence emerges. Perceived accuracy will also vary from person to person. One person might assume accuracy on the basis of a message from a friend on WhatsApp, while another will only do so on the basis of a systematic review of the available evidence.

"The BBC today reported that the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene had found that "at least 800 people died around the world because of coronavirus-related misinformation in the first three months of this year" ( Detergents can kill!"

Yes, again emphasising that our focus should be on inaccurate information, and especially information that is dangerous if implemented.

"In an infodemic, it is very hard to tell if something is accurate or not."

Yes, there are some types of information where it is hard to tell, and perceptions will vary over time, and from person to person and over time, as mentioned above.

However, the most dangerous types of inaccurate information/misinformation are clearly and demonstrably wrong. In April President Trump suggested that injection of disinfectant might be a good idea. Fortunately, not a single person (to my knowledge) acted on this. Unfortunately, much misinformation is indeed plausible to many people. I previously gave the example where a relative forwarded me an email saying "If you can hold your breath without coughing for 10 seconds, then you don't have the virus". We've all seen examples of misinformation and, in mayn cases, most people will find it hard to tell if something is accurate or not.

Unfortunately, it is not just during an infodemic that it can be hard to tell if something is accurate or not. Infodemics simply exacerbate an existing problem, whereby much of the world's population is not protected from misinformation, and is not empowered to differentiate between information that is (relatively) accurate from that which is inaccurate.

"Volume and velocity are the main problems."

These are important features, but I would maintain that inaccurate information, and particularly misinformation that is clearly dangerous, is the main problem.

Best wishes, Neil

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