Coronavirus the new “Infodemic”

By: Mary Edman

Coronavirus has brought forth a new type of social media trend – “infodemic”.  The World Health Organization definition is ”an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”  The virus has been amplified because of social media.

Information is spreading faster than the virus.

To try to combat this fear, social media companies have tried to help the WHO to disseminate the correct information and not continually build up the fear that society has been feeling. WHO teamed up with Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Tencent who runs WeChat (China’s main social media network) to change the topic of conversation. 

TikTok has tried to remove purposefully misleading videos, Facebook and Tencent have both worked to scrub any posts that mention coronavirus. The problem has become that there is overwhelming amount of content. Too much for any one company to go through and clean up. 

Social media has become the breeding group of xenophobic content.

My friend told me a story about when she was on a train in Northern California and there was an older Asian women sitting on it wearing a mask. No one was sitting near her in fear of what the mask meant. When they arrived at the next stop a group of people boarded and one in the group turned to look at this women sitting in the corner and screamed “She has the virus!” Now the women did nod but since no one knew her there is the possibility that she didn’t speak English so she just made the assumption that nodding was best in the situation. All it took was the sight of the mask for the culture of fear to build. At the next stop, all on the car ran off the train, leaving this women sitting in this corner wondering what just happened. 

This is just one unfortunate circumstance but I’m sure that it is not the only one that has occurred. Social media has the ability to spread information faster than ever before but what comes with that can have unintended consequences. It is our responsibility as social media users to really go through the information we receive and take everything with a grain of salt. The virus is a present part of our culture right now but that doesn’t mean we should use social media to go backwards and bring xenophobia into a prevalent part of our society. 

Also an interesting comment I read about all of this is that faking the virus is growing with increasing popularity because people believe that it gives them the ability to build their social media clout…. 

Mary Edman (Twitter)

This Article Has 11 Comments
  1. Jillian Fraccola says:

    The misinformation epidemic is feeding into the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus and the access to social media is perpetuating unnecessary fears. This should make people step back and assess how they are using social media both as consumers and or content producers. People should ask before posting ‘is this based in fact?’ and when consuming content they should ask themselves the same question. There needs to be more critical thinking and skepticism when consuming social content.

  2. Madison Breuer says:

    It is so sad to see how much social media has fed into the racism surrounding the coronavirus. An example I saw recently was a newspaper post online with a feature picture of an asian man with a mask on. The picture was not of the caucasian person being mentioned in the article and it wasn’t even taken in the same state. Its little things like this that editors may look past when in reality it makes the most impact.

  3. klaire Olson says:

    I think this was a very important subject to touch on, and perfect for this class. With a global crisis like a pandemic and the uncertainty that surrounds it, social media is a breeding ground for panic and misinformation. It can be difficult to sift through the relevant information versus the incorrect information. With panic and uncertainty on social media more, information can just continue to grow and grow.
    I also think it is very important you touched on the fact that this virus is leading to racism against the Asian community, especially to those who decide to wear a mask in public. As mentioned above, I also saw a news article with an Asian man in a mask that was talking about a white man who had been infected, this kind of ” advertising” is making the problem bigger. Which is a large problem and entirely unfair and disrespectful. When going about educating yourself, be sure to make sure it is coming from a reliable source and be sure not to increase the misinformation being spread around.

  4. Ben Cooke says:

    Great topic Mary!

    The Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak, I feel like is the worst thing since the Spanish Flu. But in reality, it does not even come close – this video articulates well the likelihood of actually contracting this virus and how it compares to other notable diseases over time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dDD2tHWWnU&feature=youtu.be. The reason I feel this way, is because of all the hype and misinformation on social media as you mentioned. Toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitizer have lines around the block at Costco and are selling out. The more reporting there is on the virus only provokes more fear, all of which is amplified by social media that does not put things into perspective and provide accurate information on what we should be doing. It’s great to see that the WHO has partnered with Twitter, Facebook and others to take steps to reduce the misinformation. But I think more people need to recognize this and collectively call-out those that take advantage of these opportunities to gain popularity at the expense of everyone else.

  5. Katie Zurbrick says:

    Good post, Mary. I definitely feel that the buzz around coronavirus is hugely amplified beyond any outbreak before it — and I’m certain social media is the catalyst for it. Not only does information spread so fast over a massive reach, but anyone can generate content, whether it be opinions or facts, or just whatever type of content the poster thinks will get them the most visibility. It’s troubling when applied to situations as this.

  6. Abigail Portwood says:

    Mary, this is a great post!
    It’s so important to address the spread of false information. This is one of the main downsides of social media. It is crucial that doctors, nurses etc have combatted false information with actual facts and suggestions for staying healthy. The discrimination we have seen against certain groups is so sad, and it seems that many people are so scared of the disease that they lose a sense of rational thinking. This is not an excuse for discriminating against individuals. I’ve noticed that many people have taken the time to correct individuals about the misinformation of “facts” about coronavirus. I’ve also noticed people on twitter believing that the COVID-19 is connected to the elections, government-construed, and other conspiracies. So many things get spread so quickly through social media it is getting harder to keep the facts straight, but I commend the ones who have stuck to the facts.

  7. Brandon Hargrave says:

    Social media has many positives however the spread of information on the various socials is like trying to get reliable information playing a game of telephone with the entire world. Twitter is a great way to get news however there needs to be a follow up from the user that looks to get a better understanding of the topic and fact check what they saw/ read to be true. I think that the problem that we have is that when we get information from people that we trust, we assume that they have done their research instead of doing our own before sharing or retweeting.

    In regards to the woman on the train, that is a terrible story. It is amazing that all of those trained doctors could diagnosis her so quickly and then act so unprofessional and run off the train instead of helping, I hope their services aren’t needed on a plane when they ask if there is a doctor on board.

  8. Ashley Peters says:

    Mary,
    The topic of your blog is very timely given the overwhelming informational environment that has formed since the naming of the virus. While the struggle of finding accurate information online has always been relevant, this case is especially important because of the worldwide reach of the virus. As far as finding accurate information goes, there are various different organizations that can be trusted. This includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and other government offiliations. It is wrong for people to assume that other cultures customs that may include wearing a mask is reason to assume someone is infected and people should always keep this in mind when in a situation like the one you described.

  9. Molly Garcia says:

    Great post! Coronavirus is a hot topic right now. I think that a lot of people have been getting false information on the topic. It is important that people fact-check the information about the virus before telling their friends, family, or posting it on social media. Additionally, I think that the false information can make people more scared than necessary. People who have gotten overly scared by false information are the ones who go to the store and clear the shelves of everything they think they may need (they honestly remind me of “Doomsday Preppers”). It is important to stay safe and healthy in this time, but it is just as important to do your research and figure out what the necessary/unnecessary steps are to keep yourself and those around you healthy.

  10. Anushka Pawashe says:

    It is so unfortunate for so many people how the spread of misinformation can cause such an epidemic of fear. this whole Coronavirus issue on social media has caused such a ruckus among users and a lot of the information going around isn’t accurate. I have definitely seen a lot of racist and xenophobic comments on social media that comes from misinformation about the virus.

  11. Taylor Lancaster says:

    I could not agree with this post more. I think it is extremely toxic that social media continues to add to the hysteria and racism that people have felt as a result of this virus outbreak. I open my social media accounts every day and continue to see posts that are either spreading fake news, or that are creating stereotypes surrounding specific groups of people. I think that we need to be very cautious when reading about this virus on social media because many posts are inaccurate and are created in order to generate views.

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