Surviving an Infodemic – A Virus As Deadly As COVID-19
In 2021, the Twitter account of Ottawa Public Health gained national attention for its tweet, congratulating the Super Bowl 'winner'. While at first, it seemed like an honest mistake by a social media intern, OPH used this to generate attention on spotting misinformation on the Internet. With a few swipes on our phones, people have unlimited access to an infinite number of resources – more specifically, information available on social media. In 2021, the average Canadian spent 1.46 hours on social media per day, while spending over 6 hours on the Internet (Canada Social Media Statistics 2021 | Internet & Mobile Statistics | The Global Statistics, 2021). We spend so much time scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, but how do we know what information is true, especially when it comes to public health?
This pandemic has shifted the approach and view individuals had on so many aspects of daily life but has completely changed the way people have access to information on social media. Increased screening for misinformation, warnings on certain content, and more fact-checking sources have limited the quality and credibility of the information we see, but it is not enough. We are living through an Infodemic, “a complex phenomenon caused by the interaction of mainstream media and informal media . . . transmitting some combination of fact, rumour, interpretation, or propaganda” (Maher, 2022).
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven how significant and detrimental the effect of misinformation can be. Attention-grabbing headlines, certain phrasing, and media taken out of context have affected the way public health policies have been approached by the public. Misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines that first spread through fear and concern have now rooted themselves into denouncing and overshadowing factual, evidence-based information.
While social media has played a dangerous role in spreading misinformation, it has been advantageous in reaching out to otherwise isolated individuals during the pandemic. In the spring of 2021, when vaccine appointments were hard to come by, Vaccine Hunters Canada, through Twitter, shared information on available appointments and pop-up clinics to help people get vaccinated. This group of volunteers has helped around 1.2 million Canadians be inoculated, helping save countless lives (Yun, 2021).
In addition, social media has allowed public health and other government agencies provide current and more accurate information outside of those who watch the news or listen to broadcast radio often. Platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have allowed a younger demographic more access to information and educate themselves on changing health care policies and take on a more active role in their communities.
The Infodemic of COVID-19 has cost thousands of lives globally. Although access to information has led to significant strides made to make public health more transparent, the rapid spread of misinformation has caused distrust and fear within communities (Maher, 2022). With the world approaching its third year of the pandemic, time will tell just how catastrophic of a role social media has played with COVID-19.