Research suggests “fake news” will worsen the coronavirus epidemic.
New research published on Friday 14 February shows that “fake news” – including misinformation and inaccurate advice – can lead to worsening outbreaks of disease, such as the current coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19).
Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have analysed how the spread of misinformation affects the spread of the disease. Their findings show that successful efforts to stop people sharing fake news could help save lives.
Paul Hunter, a professor at UEA and co-led the study said:
“When it comes to COVID-19, there has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the internet – about how the virus originated, what causes it and how it is spread…Misinformation means that bad advice can circulate very quickly – and it can change human behaviour to take greater risks,”
While the study focused on three other infectious diseases – flu, monkeypox and norovirus – Hunter upholds that their findings could be useful in effectively dealing with the current coronavirus outbreak.
Hunter went on to say: “Fake news is manufactured with no respect for accuracy, and is often based on conspiracy theories,”.
The researchers created models to try and take account of real world behaviour, how different diseases are spread, incubation periods and recovery times, and the speed and frequency of social media posting and real-life information sharing.
They also account for how low levels of trust in authorities is linked to the tendency to believe in conspiracies and how people interact in “information bubbles” online. Hunter found that there is a worrying tendency that “people are more likely to share bad advice on social media than good advice from trusted sources,”
The study concluded that if you could create a 10% reduction in the amount of harmful advice being circulated it would have a mitigating impact on the severity of an outbreak, while making 20% of a population unable to share harmful advice has the same positive effect.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also urging tech companies to take tougher action to battle fake news on the coronavirus and has labelled the spread of fake news on the outbreak an “infodemic”.
On Friday 14 February the World Health Organisation briefed that there were now a total of 47,505 laboratory confirmed cases in China, and 16,427 cases that have been clinically-confirmed in Hubei province. In total, there have been 1,381 deaths in China.
The Chinese government had previously been criticised for its initial response to the outbreak, accused of trying to cover up the severity of the situation to its citizens.
Outside of China there have been 505 cases in 24 countries and two deaths.