False and inaccurate information runs rampant online. But how much is it actually changing our behavior?
IN 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic rampaged across the globe, the World Health Organization declared that we had plunged into a second, simultaneous catastrophe: an infodemic. This global crisis was characterized by the rapid spread of false information, or misinformation, mostly in digital spaces. The fear was that such inaccuracies would leave the public unmoored, adrift in a sea of untruth. Eventually, this mass disorientation would cause people to harm themselves and one another.
This UnDark piece looks at whether our response to misinformation during the Covid pandemic was an overreaction and hysterical. It is an interesting discussion, with respect we definitely did see politicians, influencers and trolls seize upon crackpot theories and conspiracies. They influenced the vaccination behaviour of troublingly large sections of society and put lives at risk.
But some psychologists and sociologists aren’t convinced that misinformation is as powerful as all that — or that it is a substantially different issue now compared with in the past. In fact, they think that we may be prematurely whipping ourselves into a misinformation moral panic.
“It seems to me that we start from the conclusion that there is a problem,” said Christos Bechlivanidis, a psychologist and causation researcher at University College London. “But I think we need to think about this a little bit closer before panicking.”