Infodemic Tolls on Physical and Mental Health during Pandemic

Infodemic

The term “Infodemic” refers to information plus epidemic and means the supply of excessive information that leads to the problem statement, and that makes a solution to them difficult to find. In other words, an infodemic refers to that large increase in the amount of information connected with a particular topic, and whose growth can occur exponentially in a brief period of time because of a specific incident, as in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic. During the outbreak of COVID-19, huge amounts of information supplied by news channels & even electronic media are in abundance to common people. Access is also so very easy that literally everyone is vulnerable to face an infodemic. A lack of traditional mechanisms that require quality control and proper ‘gate-keeping’ in terms of information sharing leads to infodemic (Lewandowsky et al., 2012). According to Vosoughi et al., (2018), of late there has been an upsurge of fake-news creation and distribution over the online platforms. In this context, it needs to be highlighted that ‘fake news’ refers to fabricated information that imitates or mimics true news.

Every morning we receive printed newspapers that clearly indicate that the whole world is undergoing global recession that brings a drop in every industry and every sector like – export, import, GDP, per capita income and it also incessantly points out the adverse effect to skilled and unskilled labourers in the society. This causes one level of panic among common people, irrespective of whether they are job holders, business people or students.

During this pandemic outbreak, almost every country encountered a huge number of active cases & deaths. This has led to huge losses in personal life and professional life of individuals, not to mention the economy of the country. There have been changes in the trends of tweeting and also retweeting after the outbreak of COVID-19, with 942 tweets that made the sample in a study conducted by Pulido et al., (2020).

In the face of an infodemic, the already existing scenario of the society appears to become further worse. It becomes difficult for people to understand and filter correct information, decision-makers also find it difficult to make decisions as they don’t know which information to trust. Even health workers are majorly affected, as they find it difficult to determine trustworthy sources and obtain reliable guidance in health matters. The sources of their information may be mobile apps, websites, blogs, “influencers,” and similar other sources. Infodemics fueled by ongoing rumours, social stigma, and also conspiracy theories can have a severe connotation on the individual and society if it is not checked by evidence-based information.

At a health level, infodemics can result to be disastrous. The most important premise that gets affected due to infodemic is vaccination (Betsch, 2017). Scheufele and Krause (2019) also assert that false information can also impact public health. Due to the various false information spread related to vaccines, some parents prevent vaccinating their children, and this has directly resulted in an augmented number of preventable diseases. Similarly, in recent times, the transmission of false information on the pandemic COVID-19 is increasing in leaps and bounds. This false information that was spread even resulted in some people swallowing bleaching powder in order to sanitize the inside of their bodies, causing terrible damage to themselves. Other healthy practice habits have also been spread which has no scientific standpoint and people blindly adopted them to feel safe. There was even a lot of information related to infection spread due to ‘bat soup’ and other conspiracy theories. Aguilera (2020) points out that these not only create rumours but also develop a negative racist attitude. It has a bad effect as death tolls, as in the USA, during COVID-19 outbreak by taking antimalarials for disease prophylaxis, people have died (Haghdoost, 2020).

At a psychological level, people face the consequences of infodemics in terms of panic, excessive anxiety, extended depression, they feel overwhelmed, at times emotionally drained, and these may incapacitate them to meet important demands of life. They become overly engrossed in panicky thoughts. The continuous flow of news, real and fake, crowd the minds of people and they suffer from the fear of uncertainty and worry what will happen to them; if they are infected, how are they going to handle the situation. Not being sure of the correct prevention strategies and even unsure of receiving timely and accurate medical support, they visualize all the negative things they find in the news as things happening to them. This boom in news items eventually catastrophizes and spiral out into irresistible fear and terror.

In order to face this crisis, and stay away from infodemics and protect oneself from all the related stress, anxiety and fear, every attempt should be made. Misinformation needs to be properly debunked during COVID-19 by Government bodies and NGOs and other stakeholders. At an individual level, people need to stay alert about the type and source of information they receive; it is advised to hook oneself to trustworthy sources of information. If one feels he/she is overly panicked by the inflow of news through the media, it is, of course, suggested to them to stay away from the media sources as much as possible. Checking news every now and then should also be a strict ‘no-no’ for them. Needless to say, it is also suggested that while sharing something in the media, users should not share anything without checking its authenticity. Reliability of the source always has to be kept in mind while sharing and receiving information. The deadly spiral of ‘what-if’ needs to be controlled with every effort.

We must remember that, whether it is a pandemic or normal life, we have to tackle uncertainty. Though difficult to acknowledge, uncertainty is actually a natural and inescapable part of everybody’s life. As we have a common saying, ‘change is the most constant’ in life, same is it with uncertainty. As it is not possible to control everything in life, we must learn to adapt with the uncertain and unpredictable. A bit of emotional intelligence, strategies to face the reality and boldness to face the inevitable with courage is the need of the hour. If infodemic is the main trigger of your anxiety and worry, make every attempt to engage yourself in relaxing endeavours like exercise, yoga, watching movies, listening to music, still hold the favourite mobile phone in your hand and not catch up news and increasing statistics on confirmed and positive COVID cases, to do the least. Talking to a friend, meeting with school and college friends over online platforms such as Zoom, GoogleMeet etc will set your mood right. At this very juncture of life, we need to be very supportive of others, stay closely connected with friends and families if not physically, virtually; pick up some hobby, bring back long lost talents. In a word, add a tinge of fun element and enjoyment. Let us not get carried away in the dreadful infodemic but think logically, act purposefully and behave wisely.

References:

  1. Vosoughi S, Roy D and Aral S (2018) The spread of true and false news online. Science 359(6380): 1146–1151
  2. Lewandowsky S, Ecker UKH, Seifert CM et al. (2012) Misinformation and its correction: Continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 13(3): 106–131
  3. Betsch C (2017) Advocating for vaccination in a climate of science denial. Nature Microbiology 2: 17106.
  4. Pulido, C. M., Villarejo-Carballido, B., Redondo-Sama, G., & Gómez, A. (2020). COVID-19 infodemic: More retweets for science-based information on coronavirus than for false information. International Sociology, 0268580920914755.
  5. Haghdoost Y. Alcohol Poisoning Kills 100 Iranians Seeking Virus Protection. Bloomberg.com [Internet] 2020 Mar 18 [cited 2020 Apr 10]. Available from URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/ news/articles/2020-03-18/alcohol-poisoning-kills-100-iraniansseeking-virus-protection.


Author:
Dr. Tanusree Chakraborty
Associate Professor, Rajalakshmi School of Business, Chennai
Email – tanusree@rsb.edu.in