Dangers of the Infodemic

Harms of Misinformation

Early in the pandemic the World Health Organization’s director-general has said that “disinformation is as dangerous as COVID-19”[1]. Based the analysis we have seen, the primary harms of misinformation related to COVID-19 are likely:

  • Fear mongering and increasing panic and angst

  • Threat to the physical safety of individuals

  • Limiting the effectiveness of official efforts to curb the pandemic

  • Fostering racism

Categories of Misinformation

Efforts to counter misinformation need to address both their source and the type of misinformation they represent. The primary types of misinformation we saw related to the COVID-19 pandemic are:

  • potential cures

  • factors that contribute to disease transmission

  • conspiracies about the root cause of the disease[2]

The primary sources of information are:

  • both U.S. and foreign clickbait sites, some of which have simply been repurposed for reporting on the pandemic

  • celebrities in the entertainment, news and political realm, both online and offline

  • bad political actors, both in the U.S. and internationally

These sources may create or amplify information, or both.

Successful strategies for countering misinformation will involve both moderation and removal of misinformation, and empowering the creation and distribution of accurate and reliable information.

  1. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200202-sitrep-13-ncov-v3.pdf
  2. This includes rumors related to the impact of 5G technology on the disease and whether Bill Gates, George Soros, the military, or other “elites” have had a role in creating it.

Public Knowledge

1818 N Street NW
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20036