Infodemic: The Misinformation Plague: The Failure of Government to Provide Accurate Information in the COVID-19 Fight

The Internet has been busy churning out truckloads of coronavirus myths, ranging from the innocuous (holding your breath for 10 seconds means you're safe) to the downright deadly (drinking bleach cures coronavirus).

The Internet has been busy churning out truckloads of coronavirus myths, ranging from the innocuous (holding your breath for 10 seconds means you're safe) to the downright deadly (drinking bleach cures coronavirus). Amidst all of the confusion, our president certainly hasn't been helping prevent this flurry of rumors-he has frequently disagreed with his expert staff and made unfounded claims. This wave of misinformation has been spreading like, well, a pandemic, and has been often dubbed an "infodemic." It is primarily caused by the mass panic regarding COVID-19 but more importantly, fueled by a lack of consensus from federal leadership regarding basic facts. In times of crisis, the government ought to be a reliable source of information and a beacon of stability, primarily presenting verifiable facts and soothing mass panic. Yet the current administration is failing in that duty.

Experts and governments across the world have been stunned by the speed at which coronavirus has spread around the world and scrambled to understand the pandemic. This information gap has left the world with a deadly virus at their doorstep and no cure in sight, understandably causing a wave of panic. Furthermore, the widespread practice of social distancing has left many neighborhoods quiet and streets deserted, creating an eerie silence that only has fuelled fears. People flock to the internet with answers, where they are confronted by a plethora of false information. It's not like misinformation on the Internet is a new phenomenon. Trolls and conspiracy theorists have been a part of Internet culture for its whole existence. Our current administration, in particular, has been particularly fond of taking to the Twitter-sphere for making bold claims, many of which have no basis in fact or even reason. However, amidst this coronavirus epidemic, our government cannot even publicly agree with itself on the basic facts regarding COVID-19.

President Trump has horrified experts from the FDA and CDC with his own "expert advice," which have included miscellaneous cures such as injecting patients with disinfectants and drinking bleach. He has also heavily promoted the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, a drug the FDA has not formally approved for the treatment of coronavirus due to risks of heart dysrhythmia. Because of this, many scared citizens have followed the President's suggestions in a misguided act of trust, a decision that has caused already-burdened emergency rooms to be flooded with poisoned victims. While misinformation from our current administration has been going on for years, it now has the potential to cost lives as it only adds to the chaos caused by COVID-19.

The infodemic caused by our unresponsive government has led to a domino-effect of misinformation. Media outlets regurgitated the President's false claims across the Internet, allowing the "advice" to reach confused and panicked Americans at an exponential rate. People desperate for advice and answers are now being told by the President to inject themselves with disinfectant or take random drugs-and some of them are listening. After the press conference in which Trump touted disinfectant injections as an effective countermeasure to coronavirus, over 30 New Yorkers ingested bleach or other types of disinfectant and called poison control. Despite the clear danger behind Trump's recommendation, Americans continue to heed our President's advice; for example, after he advocated for the use of the non-FDA approved hydroxychloroquine, online demand for the drug surged 1000%. If the government continues to disseminate unreliable information, the disastrous fallout could lengthen our nation's recovery by weeks, if not months. Not only will the false facts undermine efforts to combat COVID-19 and keep the public safe, but they also undermine the federal government's authority and trustworthiness. In the future, Americans may be less likely to trust the federal government during a crisis.

However, it's not too late for the government to make amends. Our current administration is presented with a rare opportunity to lead a struggling America back from a crisis. As our nation inches its way towards recovery, Congress ought to issue more comprehensive and well-researched guidelines regarding health and safety. In doing so, our leaders are stamping out misinformation and its harmful side effects by retaking its role as the ultimate source of reliable information, something that we all desperately need amidst this ongoing crisis.


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