Johnathan Swift once wrote that falsehood flies and truth limps after it. As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, we saw the spread of disinformation on social media as an “infodemic”. An infodemic is when there’s too much information, some of it accurate and some not, that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it. Public health can be negatively affected by confusion and mistrust of health officials.
Although conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 are novel, infodemics are not new and have been around for a long time. Even the term “fake news” was first coined in 1925, when an article in Harper’s Magazine, entitled “Fake News and the Public” mourned how newswires were allowing misinformation to disseminate rapidly.
However, the growth of the internet has enabled misinformation to spread rapidly, causing concern about potential “digital wildfires” of intentionally or unintentionally misleading information. With ideas no longer limited by geography, what was once spread locally can quickly become global.