Fake news makes disease outbreaks worse, study finds – TRT World

In an analysis of how the spread of misinformation affects the spread of disease, scientists at Britain’s East Anglia University (UEA) said any successful efforts to stop people sharing fake news could help save lives.

This combination of images shows logos for companies from left, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. These Internet companies and others say they’re working to remove video footage filmed by a gunman in the New Zealand mosque shooting that was widely available on social media hours after the horrific attack. (AP Photos/File)
This combination of images shows logos for companies from left, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. These Internet companies and others say they’re working to remove video footage filmed by a gunman in the New Zealand mosque shooting that was widely available on social media hours after the horrific attack. (AP Photos/File)
(AP)

The rise of “fake news” –
including misinformation and inaccurate advice on social media –
could make disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 coronavirus
epidemic currently spreading in China worse, according to
research published on Friday.

In an analysis of how the spread of misinformation affects
the spread of disease, scientists at Britain’s East Anglia
University (UEA) said any successful efforts to stop people
sharing fake news could help save lives.

“When it comes to COVID-19, there has been a lot of
speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the
internet – about how the virus originated, what causes it and
how it is spread,” said Paul Hunter, a UEA professor of medicine
who co-led the study.

“Misinformation means that bad advice can circulate very
quickly – and it can change human behaviour to take greater
risks,” he added.

In their research, Hunter’s team focused on three other
infectious diseases – flu, monkeypox and norovirus – but said
their findings could also be useful for dealing with the
COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

“Fake news is manufactured with no respect for accuracy, and
is often based on conspiracy theories,” Hunter said.

For the studies – published on Friday in separate
peer-reviewed journals – the researchers created theoretical
simulations of outbreaks of norovirus, flu and monkeypox.

Their models took into account studies of real behaviour,
how different diseases are spread, incubation periods and
recovery times, and the speed and frequency of social media
posting and real-life information sharing.

They also took into account how lower trust in authorities
is linked to tendency to believe conspiracies, how people
interact in “information bubbles” online, and the fact that
“worryingly, people are more likely to share bad advice on
social media than good advice from trusted sources,” Hunter
said.

The researchers found that a 10 percent reduction in the amount of
harmful advice being circulated has a mitigating impact on the
severity of an outbreak, while making 20 percent of a population unable
to share harmful advice has the same positive effect.

Source: Reuters

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