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Social media simmering with Covid-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation: Report

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 13, 2020

Misinformation fuelled by rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories can hurt individuals and community if prioritised over evidence-based guidelines, say the authors

According to a report published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Covid-19 pandemic has opened the floodgates to rumours, conspiracy theories, and infodemics that are now simmering all over social media sites.

The report stated that monitoring social media data has been identified as the best method for tracking rumours in real-time and as a possible way to dispel misinformation and reduce stigma.

However, detection, assessment, and response to rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in real-time are a challenge, the report noted.

The authors of the report followed and examined Covid-19-related rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories circulating on online platforms, including fact-checking agency websites, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers, and their impact on public health.

Information was extracted for the period December 31, 2019, to April 5, 2020, and descriptively analysed. The authors eventually performed a content analysis of the news articles to compare and contrast data collected from other sources.

“We identified 2,311 reports of rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in 25 languages from 87 countries,” the authors said in their analysis.

They said that claims were related to illness, transmission and mortality (24 per cent), control measures (21 per cent), treatment and cure (19 per cent), cause of disease, including the origin (15 per cent), violence (1 per cent), and miscellaneous (20 per cent).

Of the 2,276 reports for which text ratings were available, 1,856 claims were false (82 per cent).

The authors cautioned that misinformation fuelled by rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories can have potentially serious implications on the individual and community if prioritised over evidence-based guidelines.

They further suggested that health agencies must track misinformation associated with Covid-19 in real-time, and engage local communities and government stakeholders to debunk misinformation.

Published on August 13, 2020

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