Speak Now: As COVID-19 spreads, misinformation spreads faster

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Signage urging social distancing is seen in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, April 8, 2020.0 At a time like this, getting accurate news is more important than ever. There is a plethora of misinformation spreading around the world like wildfire, and some of this has dangerous consequences.  Photo courtesy of Wong Maye-E / AP Photo.

Signage urging social distancing is seen in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, April 8, 2020.0 At a time like this, getting accurate news is more important than ever. There is a plethora of misinformation spreading around the world like wildfire, and some of this has dangerous consequences. Photo courtesy of Wong Maye-E / AP Photo.

In times of panic and pandemonium, we often look for sources to tell us what’s going on. We like to understand what is happening so we can stay as far away from the chaos as possible. However, not all the information we receive is always true.

Especially at a time like this, getting accurate news is more important than ever. There is a plethora of misinformation spreading around the world like wildfire, and some of this has dangerous consequences.

An example of this is the ongoing rumor that 5G networks and COVID-19 are connected. Many people have been spreading the conspiracy theory that 5G networks are helping spread COVID-19, despite the fact that there is absolutely no relationship between the two.

COVID-19 is a virus; it cannot be spread by a network signal of any sort. The two are not connected. This false information is dangerous to the point that multiple cell phone towers have been lit on fire just this past week.

The misinformation surrounding COVID-19 is somewhat understandable. People are panicking and trying to figure out how to protect themselves and their loved ones. However, it is important to know which sources to get information from. In the case of a pandemic, reputable health and science news sources include, but are not limited to, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Other newspapers and online sources that cite these organizations are also likely to be reputable. These are the kinds of places we should all be getting information from.

I’ve seen some of this misinformation spread firsthand. I have received many WhatsApp forwarded messages about the pandemic and how to prevent and test for COVID-19 by yourself. From “holding your breath for 15 seconds to determine whether or not you have COVID-19” to astrological predictions about COVID-19, there are many different examples of misinformation spreading through WhatsApp, to the point that the app is now imposing limits on how many times messages can be forwarded, in order to combat this spread of false information.

People should be more aware about this misinformation so that more of it does not spread. When you are looking for news sources to give you accurate updates regarding the pandemic, it is generally a good idea to see if multiple news sources are reporting about it. If this is the case, it is more likely to be true. If not, and it seems like a big revelation, it is most likely false.


President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House in Washington, on March 17, 2020. Trump has been telling voters that the U.S. economy will leap back stronger than ever after its bout with the coronavirus. It is highly important to look at multiple, reputable sources in order to get real answers.  Photo by Evan Vucci / AP Photo.

President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House in Washington, on March 17, 2020. Trump has been telling voters that the U.S. economy will leap back stronger than ever after its bout with the coronavirus. It is highly important to look at multiple, reputable sources in order to get real answers. Photo by Evan Vucci / AP Photo.

Karen M. Carley, who directs Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Computation Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems, has been researching this spread of false information. As of now, Carley has identified three types of misinformation: fake cures or preventative measures, false information about how strong COVID-19 is and who it affects and conspiracy theories regarding its origins. Believing this misinformation can be detrimental in many ways; for example, it could cause people to think that there is a surefire way to prevent the virus, leading them to think that they are immune when they are really not.

Currently, groups are working to fight against this false information by informing the public and trying to make accurate information available. It is easy to believe misinformation at a time like this when people are desperate for answers. However, it is important to remember to look at multiple, reputable sources in order to get real answers. Unfortunately, because of the nature of COVID-19, and the fact that the situation is constantly changing, it is difficult to get any information at all. 

At this point, the best thing we can do is know how to fight this false information. Remember to only pass on information that you know is true or from a reputable source and double-check the information with multiple sources if you are unsure. And don’t forget — we have to continue supporting each other during this difficult time for the world.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.

Related Content:

Speak Now: The U.S. should have been more prepared for COVID-19

Speak Now: Why we should all practice social distancing


Anika Veeraraghav is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anika.veeraraghav@uconn.edu

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