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Amid the market selloff frenzy and the panic related to the COVID-19 outbreak, or, as CNN is now calling it, “pandemic,” disinformation and misinformation have both gone rampant.
From promoting fake cures, like colloidal silver, to fake statements from organizations like UNICEF, it seems that every day, a new conspiracy theory or fake “health advice” appears and starts trending.
Make no mistake, our normal news cycle is constantly filled with false rumors or downright lies from both sides.
However, new waves of coronavirus-based misinformation have been thrown into the usual mix of political fake news, which some of the mass-panic can be attributed to.
What causes people to make up conspiracy theories, send fake doctor’s advice to their friends, and promote bogus cures?
Well, part of it is the way Americans read the news. Studies have shown that more and more Americans are getting their news directly from social media, instead of credible news sites. Studies have also shown that many people don’t read news past the headline before sharing or making claims about it.
For example, this article, filled with dummy text past the headline, garnered over 46,000 shares, according to the Washingon Post.
However, regardless of global health emergencies happening or not, the way Americans read the news generally stays the same.
So what can be attributed to the rise of new misinformation regarding COVID-19?
Well, Dr. Carole Lieberman, board-certified psychiatrist, says that quite simply, it comes down to people, “spreading fake news of cures and conspiracies regarding coronavirus primarily because they are scared.”
“We all want to know why something is happening and what we can do to feel in control of it. With coronavirus, there are many unknowns, so people want to fill in the blanks so they can take back control and feel safer. We still don’t know the real origin of coronavirus because there have been so many cover-ups and confusing stories about it in China –from a wet market to pangolins to bats to bioterrorism.”
“We want to know [though], so this gives people an opportunity to provide the answer that they want it to be or that will get them the most attention.”
Dr. Barna Donovan, professor of communication and media studies at Saint Peter’s University, elaborates on this, “A growing body of research shows that people are attracted to conspiracy theories and fake news when they feel powerless and at the mercy of overwhelming, chaotic social forces they can not understand. The belief in evil cabals having created the coronavirus as a part of a grand plan for global domination is actually comforting for many.”
“It offers a way to find a reason behind the sudden threat of this disease and the economic instability it has wrought. Believing that there is some mastermind controlling events like this is more reassuring than to face the fact that disease pandemics can spread through the world on their own, suddenly, and with overwhelming lethality, and the world’s best and brightest scientists can’t do anything about it.”
And those fact-checks you’re citing to try to counter what you think are ill-informed people? Well, Dr. Donovan says it most likely won’t work.
“People are also attracted to beliefs like this because it gives them a feeling of superiority. Conspiracy theories make their believers feel like they are much more enlightened, intelligent, and aware of how the world really works than their friends and neighbors. Conspiratorial beliefs can boost the true believer’s ego. The conspiracy theorists are awake whereas everyone else is asleep or opting to be mindless sheeple who don’t question the official version of the events.”
“These conspiracy believers, of course, become enthusiastic evangelists of what they see as real truth behind the facade and lies spread by the mainstream media, scientists, academics, and experts. Conspiracists become the heroes of their own real-life action stories, crusading to save the world by opening people’s eyes to the hidden truth.”
Basically, it boils down to people being worried and scared of the coronavirus. People want answers, cures, and ways to prevent it. With so much unknown about COVID-19, some people simply can’t stand to wait for scientific answers or studies.
Therefore, when a potentially false piece of information comes along that purportedly offers “insider” advice or information about the coronavirus, people gobble it up and don’t think twice about sharing it or forwarding it to their friends.
Unfortunately, almost all the time, these rumors are false and sometimes even downright harmful.
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